I didn’t want to mention the Notts County game for fear of tempting fate, but I guess now it’s all over I can reference said tie as much as I like. I won’t, though, because I will only end up repeating myself.
You know those days where nothing goes right? Where every shot goes inches wide, where every attempt at breaking down a resolute 11-man defensive line comes to naught? Well, this was one of those nights. A night you just wanted to be over as quickly as possible so you could expunge the memory to make way for forthcoming victories over Man United and Chelsea. (Wishful thinking?)
A night you don’t want to relive by writing reports the evening after. But I have to do it, because this stuff must be documented – mark this low point, for you’d expect anything that follows to be magnificent in comparison. Ooh, now that’s a positive and a half for you.
Wigan proceeded to play their expected deliberate, patient game, and for 20 minutes it seemed to be working well. Ivan Ramis had the ball in the net within nine minutes only to see his thumping header ruled out for offside. Latics looked as if they might score any minute now, and you thought it was only a matter of time.
Later that half, Mauro Boselli squandered a couple of fantastic opportunities to get the Wigan ball rolling, a ball that would probably have found the opposition net a few more times had either of those chances resulted in a (legal) goal. But neither did, and as the game wore on, Wigan would only become increasingly frustrated.
Bradford were happy to let the hosts knock the ball around midfield as it was evident this posed no real threat. Wigan were passing themselves to death while the visitors looked on, a knowing grin on their faces.
Wigan’s major outlet, one Ronnie Stam, suddenly lost his touch somewhere before the half hour mark, blocked out of the game by a mixture of stout man-to-man hassling and sloppy passes. On the other wing, Danny Redmond was also struggling to breach that barricade, but then he has an excuse – how many first team games have you seen him play for Wigan?
It took Martinez until 75 minutes to realise this problem, and the introduction of Jean Beausejour and Shaun Maloney injected some urgency into what was now a predictable strategy.
Though the Prem regulars did breathe new life into Wigan’s attacking play, ultimately not even they could break Bradford down. Well, I tell a lie – on occasion they could, but that finishing touch seemed to desert our collective frontline.
Bradford did threaten on a couple of occasions, most notably through the lively Zavon Hines. He forced an awesome stop from Al Habsi, who did well to somehow deflect the ball away for a corner. Dare I say this was the best chance of the game? I think I’m going to have to.
As the game entered extra time, the visitors, spurred on by a vociferous 5,000-strong away following, launched an attack on the Wigan goal, perhaps their most spirited yet. Latics snuffed this out, though, and were soon back laying siege to the Bradford penalty area. Sadly it was also business as usual insofar as they could not find the net.
Boselli missed another excellent chance when one-on-one with Matt Duke, which begged the question of how he managed to score all those goals in the Under-21 team of late. Though an able replacement in the form of Arouna Kone was sitting on the bench, Roberto kept the faith and stuck with the Argentinian right up to the 120 minute mark.
Beausejour flashed another ball across the face of goal, but because it caught a defender’s leg on the way through, Boselli could not latch onto the end of it and break the deadlock. The left wingman had a chance of his own, too, but his goalbound strike from just outside the area deflected over the bar for yet another Wigan corner – one of a total thirteen on the night.
The second period of extra time saw much of the same, Bradford having real trouble keeping hold of the ball. By now, Wigan were enjoying an enormous advantage in the possession stakes, but the clinical finishing that overcame West Ham and Nottingham Forest was unfortunately missing.
As Jordi Gomez sent another shot wide of Duke’s right hand post –probably Wigan’s best opportunity of the night–, time was fast running out for the hosts to get that killer goal. Minutes ebbed away with the blue shirts on the ball, the visitors watchful. Possession shifted to Maloney and Beausejour, who so very nearly combined to snatch it at the death, but that pesky ball just would not cross that goal line.
Penalties loomed large, and one would think Bradford held the edge. Latics had all but swung themselves off their feet with 120 minutes of persistent possession and attacking football, but nothing got through. This must, you thought, have a demoralising effect.
Can you win a tie playing defensive football? Well yes, if there are penalties. They are the greatest leveller of all. Even a man so proficient at spot kicks as Shaun Maloney can be reduced to a jelly-legged wreck if the conditions are right. He never misses, but for some reason you knew he would this time – it’s the irony of football. Jordi Gomez followed this up with a weak strike at the keeper and Bradford had done it. They had defended their way to ultimate victory, a superb win (albeit on penalties) for lower league football and its associated ethics.
From a Wigan point of view, the hosts lost the tie with their wastefulness in front of goal. Mauro Boselli is the prime culprit, though Jordi Gomez does not emerge with a great deal of credit either. Actually, nobody is completely free of blame (save maybe the back three and Al Habsi), but I am not about to apportion it. We’ve suffered enough pain and you don’t want to hear me complaining about how Bradford were worse than Notts County yet still came away with the win.
You don’t want to hear me go on about how I thought this season would be different, and that we finally had the strength in depth to put together a decent cup run. That dream is over for now, and it’s too disappointing to recount in great detail. Heck, I don’t know how I’ve managed to cobble together 1,000 words to this point.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’ve had about enough of these cup ties. Please, roll on Saturday.
Water fight image courtesy Eric Samson @ Flickr (CC)