After much deliberation, soul-searching and consultation with fellow Latics fans, I believe I have reached a satisfactory conclusion regarding the whole ‘respecting the cups‘ scenario. You might well have deduced the very same long before now, but please indulge me just this once.
*Puffs on pipe, winces slightly* It all boils down to simply this – are Wigan collectively giving absolutely everything they have?
It is fairly evident that Wigan Athletic have the resources to defeat many sides slugging it out in lower divisions, but choose not to utilise them. This resting of players, though necessary in the midst of yet another Premier League relegation battle, does not sit quite right with certain followers. In years past, cup ties would be given equal, if not higher priority than relatively humdrum week-to-week league life.
Times, however, have changed dramatically. It may not be for the better, but there isn’t a lot we can do about it, save maybe launching a rival club –let’s say, for the sake of argument, Hindley & Higher Ince Hobos FC– and entering the FA Cup at the qualification stages. Maybe, deep down, that’s exactly what we crave? The closeness and camaraderie of a genuinely small (as opposed to overachieving) club, of standing-room only terraces, of £1 admission fees and post-match pints with the players?
To put it bluntly, Bournemouth give a monkey’s about the FA Cup, while Wigan, in essence, do not. In an ideal universe where there is no such concept as fatigue, a team at the very foot of the FA Premier League could treat the cups with the respect they deserve. But this is the 21st century, where football is money and money is success (most of the time).
As much as Wigan’s U21 Development Squad is fast improving, the distinct lack of cup tie experience was a real barrier to success last Saturday. There were signs, however, that a semblance of Premier League quality might have been just enough to pull them through.
This evening, the inclusion of Angelo Henriquez and Roger Espinoza made for a slightly stronger Latics starting XI – or at least, one would have liked to think. Certainly, game time in English football would be beneficial for both newbies. Hey, guys, I think I’ve found an advantage of these cup ties!
The hosts’ early enterprise quickly shattered any hopes of a pleasant, if cold, stroll by the sea for both Wigan and their (relatively) sizeable travelling support of over 230. See, supporters care about the cups, even if the club don’t necessarily. Must have been close to, if not below freezing out on those terraces!
Wigan employed their stock away strategy in the cups this season, namely sponging up any pressure and calmly milking their time on the ball. Despite recent disappointments at the DW, one can’t deny its success on the road thus far.
As if to prove my point, the much-maligned Mauro ‘Carboard Cutout‘ Boselli came to life, Pinocchio-style to strike the first blow for Wigan. Pouncing on a mistake inside the Bournemouth half, the Argentine showed precisely what he can do given half the chance, conjuring a crisp strike from 20 yards out. Shwan Jalal could do nothing to prevent it flying into the corner of his goal, and Wigan had the early goal they sought.
The game began to meander along somewhat – that was, until the 43rd minute. Eunan O’Kane almost repeated his feat of last weekend, rattling a helpless Mike Pollitt’s crossbar from range. This was the genesis of an intense period of Bournemouth pressure, but just as they were building a head of steam, ref Jon Moss blew for half time. Phew.
Wigan made a special teams change at the break, drafting Al Habsi in for Pollitt, who presumably picked up a niggle sprinting for the tunnel at half time. Or maybe the Omani requested some game time to keep sharp?
Bournemouth continued to press upon the restart, increasing the game’s tempo significantly. Their endeavour so very nearly bore fruit when, from a long throw, the ball flashed threateningly across the face of a relieved Al Habsi’s goal. 20-year old Roman Golobart was finding life increasingly difficult as the Wigan goalmouth saw more action than Alex Ferguson’s everlasting pack of chewing gum.
All the while, the hosts were leaving themselves open at the back, and Latics almost capitalised on two occasions. They had the ball in the net on 64 minutes via the head of Roman Golobart, only to see the goal disallowed for an infringement. Seven minutes later, Jalal was forced into an excellent double save as first Boselli, then Henriquez tested his mettle in the same attacking move.
The Cherries, however, were dominating proceedings, making Wigan extremely content to eat away the clock. As the tie ticked over into its (possibly) final five minutes, the home side abused the crossbar once again, Marc Pugh the perpetrator in this instance. Unfortunately, much like Wigan in the Premier League, they just could not find that little bit extra to make that pesky spherical object roll over the opposition goal line.
An expectedly tense final few minutes saw a spirited 11-man effort to claim that equaliser, but Latics somehow clung on for a very, very narrow 1-0 victory. Though I do not know how, it seems to be a fact.
I was going to write a bit about how commentators seem to be impressed by midfield general Roger Espinoza, but out of respect for the magnificent Bournemouth, I shall once again reserve the final word for them. They made all the running and did precisely what they had to except score, and I think we all sympathise with that.
Dean Court image courtesy Chris Downer (CC2.0)