Up until today, I never had the opportunity to sample the delights of the Robin Park Sports Arena. Quite surprising really, considering it’s been there for ten years (?) and I walk past it every other weekend on the way to the DW. From a distance, you could get the impression it’s somewhat inhospitable, a pokey little shed in the back garden of the aforementioned Temple of Wigan Football (as nobody ever calls it).
Not a bit of it. Though some of the seats are starting to look a bit cracked and dated, which is to be expected from the years of use and abuse it’s no doubt been subjected to, it’s not a bad little stadium really. At £4.20 for a reserve tie, you can’t grumble too much.
Well, I did emphasise too in the previous sentence for a reason as there were no really big names like Jimmy Bullard on show here, but for me it was a chance to see the second string Latics squad in action for the first time this season. A helpful printout, provided for free in the reception area, informs me that Latics haven’t been too hot on the reserve circuit this campaign, limited to a paltry win and a draw from our first six league games.
This, however, was a Lancashire Senior Cup match, a potentially tough tie against a Rochdale side fresh from a 3-2 defeat of Carlisle and boasting an unbeaten record in this league campaign. Granted, these performances were against teams a couple of leagues below our level, but you can’t begrudge them their excellent start to 2009/10.
For much of the game, Rochdale looked a more than competent side, putting Latics under pressure numerous times in the first half. You could say the game’s first goal — struck by Latics’ Josh Langley rising to meet a Daniel Redmond corner on the half hour mark — came against the run of play, but I tend to think Wigan just about shaded proceedings as the half time interval approached.
Stoppage time saw a flurry of activity as Rochdale equalised, via Kallum Higginbotham, following a moment of uncertainty in the Latics box on 45 minutes. Undeterred, Wigan came straight back and earned themselves a penalty in the dying moments of the first half. An excellent save by Daniel Taberner — the nephew of Latics keeper Mike Pollitt, who was at the match to watch his protégé — denied Redmond a goal which would have given the home side a just about deserved half time lead.
A clearly buoyed Rochdale emerged from the halftime break fighting, and put the Wigan goalmouth under pressure almost immediately. Latics redressed the balance, the introduction of Callum McManaman contributing somewhat to a spell of pressure which saw Tomasz Kupisz make some succesful forays down the left wing. The Dale were always in the match, however, and could easily have won, as they forced a crucial goal line clearance or two from the Latics back four.
But the last ten minutes saw Latics lay seige on the opposition goalmouth and come quite close to hitting the onion bag on a couple of occasions. It was not to be, though, and Rochdale finished 90 minutes of play with a well-earned 1-1 scoreline.
There is no extra time played in this competition, so it was straight to penalties. Rochdale were on the back foot from the start as they missed both their first two penalties, whilst the two Tomaszes, namely Cywka and Kupisz, slotted theirs away for Wigan.
Latics missed their third, however, and for a brief moment Rochdale looked like they could claw back level. Jordan Mustoe scored Wigan’s fourth spot kick, though, and Laurence Bell smacked his effort against the crossbar to ensure Wigan didn’t have to take their last penalty. Final score: 3-2 on pens.
I did get the feeling Latics’ top-level experience counted for quite a lot when it came to the lottery of penalties, and perhaps nerves got the better of one or two of the Rochdale players. Overall, however, a very good performance means they can make the trip across Greater Manchester in their team coach (pictured above) with some pride.
As for Wigan, they just couldn’t put away their chances. The two Polish lads were quite impressive, as was midfield ferret Joe Holt, who troubled Rochdale with some jinking runs. 6ft 3inch Antonio Amaya, signed from Spanish Division 2 side Rayo Vallecano in August, looked commanding in central defence, if not unbeatable.
As reward for their win today, Wigan now face Bolton, Liverpool or Manchester United at the Robin Park Arena in the semi-finals. Robin Park sounds so much cooler than ‘The DW Stadium’, don’t you think?