Whoever said the FA Cup has lost its magic? The moment Wigan Athletic drew Macclesfield Town in the fourth round, tentative plans were put in place for a colossal ‘jolly boys’ outing‘ to rival recent Premier League visits to Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers. Tickets for the Moss Rose tie soon became more sought after than a half-decent JWAW joke, prompting generous Macclesfield officials to make another 500 or so available. And guess what? They sold out within a couple of hours, too.
A great number of people, almost 2,300 in fact, had been looking forward to this game with great relish for quite some time. I can’t tell you exactly why, though the lure of a traditional cup away day and its associated atmosphere was a contributory factor in my own enthusiasm for the encounter. That, and the agreeable price of a relatively short trip to sunny Cheshire for the afternoon, of course.
As the big day approached, however, wintry conditions in the north west threatened to turn supporters’ dreams to a mucky, well-trodden slush. Heavy snow in Wigan on Friday night cast doubt over whether the tie would go ahead – if it was like this in Macclesfield, one may as well have a lie in until noon on Saturday. But an 8am Twitter announcement that the game was ‘99% on‘ suggested slightly more clement weather south of the power shower that is Manchester cloud.
Despite an arduous expedition to Hindley Station –I knew I should have brought my Arctic snow boots– muggins arrived just in time for the delayed 11:00 to Manchester. There must have been over 200 Latics fans performing their best sild impressions in a carriage for the all of 45 minutes, but most, if not all concerned arrived intact.
The congregation shortly descended upon an expectant Macclesfield. Cup fever became increasingly evident upon the approach to Moss Rose as the plethora of programme and nik-nak vendors came into view. The stylings of a local brass band provided the soundtrack for an anticipant, yet somehow relaxed overall ambience of chatter and inebriated, boisterous chanting. Ahh yes, the unmistakable characteristics of many a magnificent cup away day of yore!
Much to nobody’s surprise, Wigan’s starting XI had a distinctively development squad flavour about it. One would have hoped, however, that the likes of Roman Golobart and Jordan Mustoe would be able to cope with a hungry Silkmen side. Surely, their relatively astronomical wages –at least in comparison to those of today’s opposition– would indicate a higher quality of play?
Incidentally, that last sentence was a rhetorical question. If it weren’t, I have a pretty good idea what you pedants might be shouting at the screen right now.
Freshly-acquired Spaniard-between-the-sticks Joel Robles was certainly grateful of an opportunity to impress, excitedly bounding about his goalmouth like a kid in a video shop. And that was before the game had even got underway!
Wigan began like the Premier League side, controlling possession in the opening minutes. If it weren’t for the fact they kicked off the contest, Macclesfield wouldn’t have had enough time on the ball to even contemplate entering opposition territory, let alone test Billy ”Joe L” Joel in the Macclesfield Audi Stand goal.
Callum McManaman, obviously excited at signing a new 3-year contract at the club, was central to much of Wigan’s attacking play in the initial exchanges. Perphaps predictably, the 21-year-old Huytonian was responsible for his side’s (and the game’s) first real opportunity.
From his starting position on the left wing, McManaman sprinted deep into the penalty area, only to be unceremoniously upended by former Portsmouth triallist Thierry Audel. Though 2,300 Wiganers simultaneously screamed for a penalty, there was no need to implore referee Roger East on this particular occasion – he had already made up his mind.
Presently, Jordi Gomez placed his spot-kick the correct side of keeper Joe Anyon’s right hand post, and the John Askey Terrace erupted as one. The on-loan Shrewsbury shot-stopper so very nearly laid fingertips on the ball as it cut through the crisp mid-afternoon mizzle, but it was struck just well enough to elude his clutches. A good penalty, as you might expect from Wigan’s leading goalscorer this season.
Latics largely dominated the next half an hour, with Callum McManaman and Angelo Henriquez working opportunities to double the Premier League side’s lead. But they did not convert them, and the hosts spotted an opportunity to impose themselves on this contest.
The next big flashpoint came on 39 minutes, when Waide Fairhurst seemed to be barged to the ground somewhat unfairly inside the Wigan penalty area. I cannot comment further as I have yet to see a replay of the incident, but from my viewpoint on the opposite terrace, I felt certain referee Roger East would point to that spot without hesitation. Oh, sorry about that, I just had a large bout of deju vu there…
Wigan may have dodged one bullet, but the danger wasn’t over yet. From the resultant corner, Audel smacked an unstoppable header… right into Joel’s chest. As half time came, a certain nervousness permeated the massed Wigan ranks – this game was far from won. Or maybe everyone was busting for a pee?
The second half was a tense affair. After Nouha Dicko squandered an early opportunity, Wigan rather seized up as the hosts lifted their game to new heights. Injuries to Fraser Fyvie and the aforementioned Dicko unsettled Wigan, but nowhere near as much as their opposition, who now looked the more likely to make a breakthrough.
With a little more quality of finish and, dare I say it, that little bit of luck you require when up against ‘stronger’ opposition, a proper cup upset could well have unfolded at Moss Rose on Saturday afternoon. Sadly for the Silkmen, they never really troubled Joel Robles for the remainder of the game, though one cannot fault their sterling efforts.
Wigan’s performance in the second half isn’t really worth mentioning, though Maynor Figueroa earns himself a JWAW man of the match trophy –half a used roll of masking tape– for his imperious defensive performance throughout a tricky period for Latics. Let’s hope he holds it together for Tuesday, eh? Huhuhuh…
A relieved Joel thrust his arms high, indicating the game’s conclusion. The referee’s whistle was not audible at the Wigan end due to much expelling of air, credit to the home side’s great enterprise and work rate. The match, though not the greatest in terms of quality, was exactly what I expected – a genuine old-fashioned, attritional FA Cup tie.
Once again, Wigan can count themselves just a little fortunate to be progressing, but the fact remains that they are into the last 16 of England’s premier cup competition for the… only time I can remember, come to think of it. A historic day, then, even if the performance on the field probably didn’t match the occasion.
Much like Bournemouth, Macclesfield deserved so much more, but fate –and indeed referees– can be cruel to ‘smaller’ sides. A replay would have been fairer, but those football gods cannot be reasoned with. Believe me, I’ve tried.