sport

Martinez defends Wigan fans

Roberto Martinez has hit out at Wigan's detractors by saying the club's fans should be measured in terms of passion rather than quantity.

Wigan have regularly been ridiculed for their low gates throughout their eight seasons in the Premier League.

Their average attendance was the second lowest in the competition at 18,633 last season and it is not uncommon to see swathes of empty seats at the DW Stadium.

But Martinez feels it is all too easy to forget Athletic were a non-League side until 1978, and that they play in a town which falls within the catchment area of several glamorous clubs.

Additionally, there is significant competing interest from rugby league.

Martinez, who first joined Wigan as a player in 1995, said: "From the outside they always look at the numbers and that is the wrong way to measure the passion of the fans. I always measure the quality of our fanbase.

"Remember, we have come a long way in the last 15 years. We are a modern, young, new football club.

"The numbers are not going to be where other clubs have them but the passion and quality of these fans is unique.

"It is a very difficult area. There are many possible, successful distractions - 25 miles around here there are some football clubs that are very easy to support.

"Our fans have always been very loyal and very strong. I can guarantee you the passion and support from our fans is quite unique."

Martinez felt his remarks were justified on a day when supporters snapped up their initial allocation of 2,200 tickets for the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Blue Square Premier side Macclesfield within hours. An extra batch of 440 will now be made available.

Macclesfield are also close to selling out for a clash at 6,200-capacity Moss Rose which will revive memories of an old non-League rivalry from the 1970s.

Martinez said: "We are really excited about the competition. It is the best cup competition in the world and this is the proof.

"Having nearly a derby in the north west - we are really looking forward to the fourth round and I think the fans are excited about it.

"It brings great memories from the past - a traditional fixture.

"The fans are supporting us every step and it shows how seriously we take the cup.

"Sometimes we get a bit dismissive because of the number of changes but we need to understand that in modern football changes shouldn't mean you don't want to win games."

A much-changed Wigan side set up the trip to Macclesfield with a third-round replay win at Bournemouth in midweek.

Martinez's more regular faces are likely to return for Saturday's home clash with Sunderland in the Premier League, when 17th-placed Wigan will hope to pull away from the relegation zone.

Midfielder Shaun Maloney will go into the game fresh from signing a new contract.

The 29-year-old Scotland international has agreed a new two-and-a-half year deal that keeps him at the DW Stadium until 2015.

Maloney joined Wigan from Celtic in a 1million deal in August 2011, and after playing an important role in last season's dramatic escape from relegation, has now firmly embedded himself in the side.

He has started all but two of the 22 Premier League games this season, scoring two goals, and is re-establishing himself in the English top flight after a previous spell with Aston Villa.

Martinez said: "Shaun is one of the most technically-gifted British players that you will find, but on top of his style and footballing flair, his work-rate and purpose in his performances make him a key member of our future at Wigan Athletic."

Martinez has not ruled out further additions in the current transfer window, after completing deals for Angelo Henriquez and Roger Espinoza, but has downplayed speculation linking him with in-form Leeds striker Luciano Becchio.

There were rumours 4million-rated Argentinian was at Bournemouth to watch Wigan on Tuesday after missing Leeds' clash with Birmingham the same night through illness, but that was news to Martinez.

He said: "I don't think so. If he was I didn't know about it."