In the midst of yet another tense Premier League season, one is grateful of an intermission. No matter what the result, today’s FA Cup third round tie would provide a welcome diversion from the money-grabbing and badge-kissing of said league, at least for this observer. Yep, Latics could have been hammered 5-0 and I wouldn’t have minded, such was my immersion in the whole spirit of the day.
Alright, cup competitions aren’t necessarily Wigan’s priority this season, but that doesn’t stop us die-hards taking it just as seriously. Unfortunately, this can often lead to a form of culture clash –dubbed ‘Cup Clash’ by… absolutely nobody– that sees forthcoming Premier League clashes play their own part in decimating Wigan’s starting XI.
Aware of the stark reality of the situation, there weren’t many groans when Martinez made a whopping nine changes to the (visibly jaded) side that lost to Manchester United earlier this week. There were, however, a few quizzical looks when neither Angelo Henriquez or Roger Espinoza were named in the starting lineup. Hey, we paid ten quid to see the new guys, what gives?
The question was, could Wigan make so many changes and hold their own against a rampant Bournemouth? Would the reserve-teamers slot into Roberto’s usual strategy with ease, or make a complete mess of it all again? And more importantly, would Bournemouth bring along their mascot, Cherry Bear? Forget those starting lineups, I wanna see the bear…
The visitors, cheered on by a healthy travelling contingent, made a strong start to the game. Matt Tubbs forced Roman Golobart into a block as early as the third minute, while Charlie Daniels warmed Mike Pollitt’s gloves with a cross. But as expected, Latics settled into possession, and initially caused problems down the left wing through Danny Redmond and Callum McManaman.
Mauro Boselli had Wigan’s best chance to date on 22 minutes, his fluffed turn-and-strike rolling well wide of Shwan Jalal’s right hand post. One felt Latics were now just about on top –at least if the subdued nature of the Bournemouth faithful was anything to go by–, but this was not to last for very long.
On the stroke of 30 minutes, controversy. Marc Pugh went down in the penalty area for what looked like your stone-wall penalty – certainly, I don’t think many Wiganers would have complained if it were given. But to their relief, referee Bobby Madley did not point to the spot, instead choosing to book Pugh for what I can only assume was ‘simulation’.
I did not get a very good view of the incident (as you will hear all about on a forthcoming edition of the PWU Podcast), but if Twitter reactions are to be believed, it was a slightly dodgy decision. Now, this is worrying in more ways than one: firstly, it does seem to indicate something of a ‘big team bias’ that our esteemed manager sees as so prevalent in the modern game. Secondly, we do not want these marginal penalty decisions going our way in the FA Cup – save them for the Prem!
Undeterred, Bournemouth went on to grasp the game by some particularly dangly sensitive bits. The 41st minute of the game: Mauro Boselli gets Wigan’s first strike on target, stinging the palms of Jalal, who is quick to clear. Suddenly, the ball is at the other end of the pitch and falls perfectly to the feet of Irish U21 international Eunan O’Kane. It’s just outside the area, but prime position to piledrive the ball into the top corner of Pollitt’s net. O’Kane takes the opportunity, and how. A cracking strike that had certain parts of the East Stand clapping in admiration – no small feat.
Latics’ reserve team was almost powerless to react to such a blow, but it had been a steady deterioration from the first 10 minutes of the game. There was a certain deflation, a Sunday evening lethargy about it all – or was it coolness? “Yeah, it’ll be alright, don’t worry.” Heh, I hope not.
The belated introduction of new-boy Angelo Henriquez injected some urgency (and perhaps quality) into proceedings, and Wigan kicked off the second half with a bit more get-up-and-go. Indeed, Latics were almost level on 52 minutes, when Henriquez headed Jones’ free kick onto the bar from 9 yards.
Maynor Figueroa was next to smack a shot against the crossbar, but not before some more Bournemouth pressure. Martinez must have pointed to their smooth passing play and screamed, “that‘s how I want us to play!” To their credit, Wigan finally found at least some penetration – but no goals had thus yet materialised.
More controversy was to follow. Nobody is quite sure why Mr Madley awarded Wigan a 70th minute spot-kick, but for some reason he did. Was it shirt-pulling, or a cheeky little handball in the 6-yard box? Or did Josh McQuoid sneeze on a Latics player? I really don’t know, but then I wasn’t as close to the incident as the referee.
Jordi Gomez fired a poor penalty straight at Jalal, but was on hand to tuck away the rebound. Somehow, the hosts had scraped an equaliser, and with the home crowd behind them, now had an opportunity to banish the ghost of Bradford this afternoon.
Nouha Dicko and James McArthur entered the fray with just over ten minutes of normal time to play, and did make something of an impact. Despite healthy possession, however, over-deliberation became the home side’s worst enemy. Looking to work an opening, Wigan waited and waited to make the killer pass, but it was too late – the referee had already blown for full time. Gah!
For those who view the FA Cup as just as, if not more important than the league, it was a disappointing afternoon. On the face of it, one would suggest a team like Wigan have enough quality to defeat lower league opposition without the help of the ref – after all, they have already done so in the Capital One Cup this season.
One might point to Wigan’s questionable decision-making – on the one occasion they delivered a free kick into the box, they so very nearly scored. Why, then, did they pass out a subsequent free kick in the very same position? And why simply knock the ball around in your own third with less than a minute to play?
The final word, however, should go to Bournemouth, who did take it all seriously and were well worth a much better result. In football, however, the ‘smaller’ club seldom get what they deserve, and that’s what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
Specs image courtesy Victor Rocha (CC3.0)