In a season such as this, managers are caught between two rather large, and in some cases expensive, stools when it comes to the FA Cup. It’s the oft-touted story; to use the competition as an opportunity for fringe team players to gain much needed match practice in preparation for challenges to come, or treat it as you would a Premier League match and go out all guns blazing in an attempt to win the thing outright?
Whilst the latter might not apply in the case of Wigan Athletic, especially in the 2010–11 season, it is somewhat tempting to get caught up in the hype and emotion surrounding the competition. On this occasion, I think it would be foolish to plump for all out attack and somewhat unusual considering the sides fielded by Martinez in the Carling Cup earlier this season. In the event, fringe players were enough to overcome Hartlepool, Preston and Swansea, but not Arsenal. Still, a decent run, you would say, especially because it wasn’t all plain sailing even if Latics might have seemed the slightest bit clinical for the first time under Big Rob.
These occasions tend to boil down to the ‘glass half full/empty’ situation. If you’re the positive type, then you’d be pleased with either a win or a loss. Whilst you can’t ever really be happy with a losing team, especially against Championship opposition, a win would mean more distraction from the real prize this season, namely retaining our place in the Premier League. I’m not entirely sure in which camp I would pitch a tent, though I’m the old fashioned type that revels in a Latics win no matter what competition in which it may come. One thing’s for sure, though – nobody concerned wants a replay.
Thankfully, neither team will be subjected to such an ordeal for the time being, as Latics completed a relatively comfortable win over their Yorkshire opponents at the KC Stadium. They didn’t half make it difficult at times, however.
Widespread changes were the order of the day for this repeat of last year’s Third Round tie. Adrian Lopez, Steve Caldwell and Emmerson Boyce were drafted into defence, whilst Daniel de Ridder and Callum McManaman would enter the midfield and attack line respectively. With Chris Kirkland still a bit stodgy (not to mention dodgy), Ali Al Habsi returned between the sticks, with Figueroa, Thomas, Gomez, McArthur and Diame making up the rest of the starting XI.
The latter would provide Latics’ first goal on 21 minutes, with new boy McManaman supplying the cross. From then on Wigan were in control but Hull, boasting ex-Latic Jimmy Bullard, would have the odd attack. In general, however, Al Habsi and this fresh-looking back four would deal with everything with a certain amount of competence… for now.
The next three goals came in a period spanning 20 minutes, at the start of which 19-year old McManaman would grab his very first for the club on 56. Fellow youngster Jordan Robinson replaced Adrian Lopez in the centre of defence only to see Hull snatch one back via Nick Barmby 18 minutes later. The showboating Latics would have to pull themselves together in anticipation of a potential comeback.
They needed not fear for long, though, as Diame bagged his second on 77 minutes, restoring the visitors’ two-goal advantage less than 240 seconds after the former Everton man’s strike. From thereon in it was a case of repelling all the Tigers could offer, which Latics –now with Jordan Mustoe and Daniel Redmond in tow– tried their best to do. By the time Barmby slotted in his second on 89 minutes, the more inexperienced Wigan representatives must have been sweating as the fourth official signalled for an additional four minutes.
Thanks to a bit of time wasting from Daniel de Ridder, the visitors managed to see out those final seconds to hang on for a deserved 3–2 victory and with plenty of first team experience for our reserve team contingent. It could have been a bit more comfortable, but any win on the road must count as a plus, even in the cup.
Next up is Fulham at the DW, but many will be grateful of a week’s rest after a packed Christmas calendar which had its fair share of ups and downs. Let’s hope we don’t see too many of the latter in the next few months, at least not at Wigan Athletic.