The County Ground (photo by Martin A Haisley via Twitter)
Swindon brushed aside a tepid Wigan to breeze into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup. Latics, to all intents and purposes fielding a reserve side, failed to capitalise on Callum McManaman’s 35th minute goal as a lively Swindon outplayed their Premier League visitors on their way to a more than deserved win.
As expected, a drastically modified Latics took to the pitch at the County Ground. Though Al Habsi and Watson retained their places and Gary Caldwell made a welcome return to the centre of defence, this was a new lineup containing, amongst others, the out-of-favour Hendry Thomas and Shaun Maloney. Jordan Mustoe, who played his last senior game precisely one year ago against Hull in the equivalent cup tie, was handed his first start for the club and took up position alongside Adrian Lopez and the returning Emmerson Boyce at the back. The pacey Callum McManaman is back in South Lancs after his his loan spell at Blackpool (during which he played 12 games and scored 2 goals) and joined McArthur and Di Santo at the other end of the field this afternoon. Daniel Redmond and Nouha Dicko were handed places on the bench alongside regular first-teamers Sammon, Gomez, Moses, Gohouri and Pollitt.
Latics began by playing things at their own pace –a rather slow pace–, and though Adrian Lopez made a bit of a howler when his misplaced pass gifted the hosts a decent opportunity, this altered back four managed to repel most, if not all, attacks. Swindon weren’t without their dodgy moments at the back, either, but also managed to keep their opponents out with relative ease.
A long range shot from Hendry Thomas was Wigan’s first attempt of the game, but it flew way over the bar and into the packed stand behind Foderingham’s goal. In fact, said Robins keeper was largely untested up until the 35th minute, when the dangerous Callum McManaman sprinted his way into the area only to be brought down by defender Aden Flint. Yet another penalty to Latics, and Ben Watson, who’d been rather quiet up to this point, stepped up to take it. Unfortunately he slipped and the ball cannoned into the post, but McManaman was on hand to finish what he started and put Latics 1-0 ahead.
Ben Watson, who scored on his last cup appearance against Palace, missed a pen this afternoon.
As usual, however, the Wigan lead did not last long. The hosts were back on level terms less than five minutes later, following a string of superb high balls into the Latics penalty area. This spell of possession had earlier forced Al Habsi into a fantastic save from Matt Ritchie, but it wasn’t long before the pressure finally told. Alan Connell’s delightful flick header left the Wigan keeper with no chance, and the home side went into half time on level terms. It wasn’t undeserved, either.
Swindon took this momentum into the second half, and though Wigan experienced their own patches of dominance, the hosts were more than willing to watch their opponents pass the ball among themselves. And eventually out of play. To be fair, you can’t place too much blame on the likes of Jordan Mustoe, who gave it his best but probably isn’t cut out for first team football just yet. Not even the introduction of Jordi Gomez, who replaced Thomas on 56, could do much to change fortunes.
As Wigan faded, the Robins took over and it soon became apparent they had a lot more substance going forward, especially with those crosses. Almost every ball coming into the Latics area was an absolute peach, and it’s a wonder Adrian Lopez managed to scramble away as many as he did. As time passed, the Wigan wide men saw less and less of the ball, and I swear that by the end of the game Emmerson Boyce had reverted to central defence to defuse those bombs.
Latics had a reprieve when Caldwell seemed to pull down a Swindon attacker right in front of goal, clearly denying him a scoring opportunity. Referee Peter Walton waved it away, but under constant threat, one felt it was now a matter of time before the visiting defence cracked. Worse, Wigan were now almost devoid of attacking ideas, and a sloppiness had crept into their passing game to such an extent they struggled to make it into the opposition area.
The turning point came on 75 minutes. Paul Benson redirected a long-distance shot past Al Habsi and the Robins were deservedly in front. The linesman simply didn’t have the heart to tell him he was offside when the ball rebounded off his legs, but it mattered not – Swindon deserved some luck.
Victor Moses wasn't too impressive in his fifteen minutes of play.
What would Wigan do now? Well, nothing much. Though Victor Moses came on almost immediately, this was a forced change as Maloney had taken a knock in the run-up to the goal. The Anglo-Nigerian almost handed the game to Swindon there and then by blocking off a Swindon player in his own area, but for some strange reason Walton didn’t want to give the penalty. What’s this, a ref favouring ‘bigger’ teams? Never!
Let off once again, Wigan tried to get the ball forward but it was no use – Moses and Di Santo had a go, but Wigan would finish the half with a big fat zero shots on target. As the full time whistle blew, there was not a single person in the County Ground, perhaps even the UK, that would have begrudged Swindon their victory.
As for strategy, well it was more of the same, really, and one may well point to this as a primary reason for Wigan’s ineffectiveness. Obviously there’s also the fact half our starting lineup have played little to no first team football of late (save for reserve games), but take absolutely nothing away from Swindon. They went and grabbed the game with open arms, showing far more desire than the visitors, who at times looked to have all but given up. There was no urgency, a problem that seems to be permeating any side Martinez fields of late.
Most damning for Wigan, however, was a lack of quality – the strategy employed by Roberto often relies on pieces of individual brilliance to function correctly, and without Diame, Moses and Rodallega, I’m not sure it was the right thing to do. Only McManaman, who was probably Latics’ most effective and attractive player, offered anything close to incisiveness. Di Santo and Maloney made some headway, and always remained a nagging threat (as you should expect against a League Two side, no offence) but on the whole it was decidedly average.
To raise spirits on a disappointing afternoon, it’s worth remembering that the FA Cup is not for teams like Wigan, who’re embroiled in the battle to stay in the seemingly inexhaustible cash cow that is the Premier League. It’s for teams like Swindon, those a little bit farther down the Football League pyramid that can really benefit from a good cup run. Hang on, I feel a cliché coming on… If anything, it’s probably better that Wigan have gone out so we can… Nah, I won’t say it – it’s too obvious, but it certainly rings true in this instance.
Good on ya, Swindon.
Thanks again to Martin A Haisley for the photo.