In many ways, this was not your typical Lancastrian Carling Cup derby. For one thing, Latics’ style of play is anything but Northern.
In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find an Englishman amongst their starting line-up from last night’s tie with close rivals Preston North End. With Chris Kirkland currently out of favour and Victor Moses sat firmly on the bench, Ben Watson was the only Wigan man born of this country to grace the pitch at kick off last night. And he’s a Southerner.
There was, however, the unmistakable whiff of cup tie floating around the Dee Dubya on this relatively humid September evening. Though the Lilywhites brought a decent amount of troops south of the Greater Manchester border, the total attendance literally reeked of a Wednesday night non-Premier League game. Perhaps the utter dejection of last season’s defeat at the hands of League Two Notts County is still fresh in many Latics fans’ minds. Still, for ten quid, you’d think it may just be worth a punt.
Doubtless some present in the East and West stands would have had second thoughts about their attendance when Keith ‘Don’t Call Me Dick’ Treacy put the visitors ahead with a pleasant free-kick on 23 minutes. There was no repeat of the ticket ripping and replica shirt throwing exploits of this time last season, at least not yet, but many (including myself) feared the worst.
As the minutes ticked by without a Latics shot on target, this agitation grew, gradually turning to resignation as the 87th minute arrived. Well, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had Latics crashed out last night, even if the starting lineup was fairly close to full-strength. It would have been some consolation that, with the above average number of big name clubs crashing out at the second hurdle, Latics’ result would surely have been buried under column inches dedicated to Northampton’s victory over Liverpool.
Before last night’s tie, Roberto Martinez was as short as 5/4 to be the next Prem manager signing on at Brocol House, odds that may well have been shortening even further as the game moved into the final three minutes.
Granted, Wigan actually started to come into their own late on, and there was no doubting who had the most of the possession and play in the second half. This was somewhat unsurprising, as the good old fashioned mentality of going one-nil up away from home and defending like mad still lives on even in deepest, darkest Lancashire. (Not to belittle it as a strategy, of course.)
It was a tactic that so very nearly worked a treat for Darren Ferguson’s men, as is so often the case with this current Wigan crop. North End could, and maybe should, have been 2-0 to the good, with Paul Couts (the very same man who had earlier hit Al-Habsi’s post) very unfortunate not to see his shot come off the underside of the crossbar and into the South Stand goal. A let off for the Latics, no doubt, and perhaps a catalyst for what was to come.
With defeat looming, inspiration came from an unlikely source. Jordi Gomez, the man everyone loves to absolutely hate (if not despise), slotted a left footed screamer past Andrew Lonergan to put Wigan back on level terms. Maybe he isn’t as bad as we all think, at least not against Championship opposition.
This signalled a comeback that, whilst not exactly on a par with Lazarus, was nonetheless good to see. Mostly, though, we were all left asking why on Earth we were unable to produce anything like it in the preceding 87 (177 if you include the Man City match) minutes.
From a Preston corner, Charles N’Zogbia found himself free in the opposition half, and with two Latics attackers to one defender, North End were always struggling to get back from an all-or-nothing foray into the Wigan half. James McCarthy played an unselfish one-two to the Frenchman, who duly placed the ball into the Preston net to kill off the visitors’ challenge. It was valiant, certainly, and one that could so easily have earned them an away win against Premier League opposition.
What was looking like a dire and demoralising loss for the vast majority of the evening somehow transformed in the space of about seven minutes by a combination of luck, a bit of skill, and (once things were level) Preston’s desire to win the tie in 90 minutes. Or 95 minutes, whatever.
On the whole, a good win in the sense that I don’t think you could ever term a win ‘bad’. It was heartening to see a win at the DW for the first time in a good few months, even if we’re not quite ‘there’ yet. The result was a positive one, and I think we should leave it at that. After all, Martinez is crafting a side that’s built around confidence, so we ought to keep that high wherever we can.