Ahh, the FA Cup – the ‘welcome distraction’ that is in reality an exercise in sheer frustration. As the ‘smaller’, lower ranked league side, you seldom receive that sliver of fortune one requires when faced with the might of Premier League opposition… much to the obvious delight of many a Latics fan.
In what has so far been a decidedly unglamorous season, the simply mouthwatering prospect of a place in the quarter finals was enough to work this blogger into such a frenzy that he hurriedly gobbled up his Sunday lunch within two minutes. Eat your heart out, Martin Clare! I’ll admit my meal was only beans on toast, but that’s beside the point.
We shall not dwell on Wigan’s past ‘glories‘ in this season’s competition, for they aren’t exactly characterised by flowing football and comfortable victories. But while that oft-touted second string hasn’t been at its best for a good few months now, the club remained in contention for that simultaneously sought-after and scoffed-at FA Cup trophy as of just after teatime. As any cliché-spouting, ex-pro perched on a brown couch will be quick to quip, all you ever ask for is an opportunity.
The reason I sit typing this post some 25 hours later than usual is, erm… well, I dunno. Quite how the tie was deemed more worthy of a rearranged television kick-off time than Wigan v Bournemouth or Macclesfield, I have little clue – perhaps ITV and BSKYB like to dabble in a spot of ‘pin the tail on the Sepp Blatter’ to randomly select their televised ties?
You won’t hear me complaining, however, because this was only the second time in their long and illustrious history that Latics had appeared live on terrestrial television. (The first was discussed in moderate detail at PWU’s recent Christmas Quiz Night.)
Growing up in the 90s, I would have loved to see even a fleeting mention for Latics on telly, and now we’re completely spoiled by weekly live broadcasts, multi-channel highlights and detailed match commentaries. It is a veritable heaven for the hopeless Latic fanatic such as myself. Thank you, Independent Television. Your year’s supply of meat pies is in the post – just watch out for jelly leaking through the envelopes.
Do I really need to describe this to you? If you weren’t at the John Smith’s Stadium then you’ll have been watching the whole thing on telly. Ah well, it’s just about worth experiencing it again, I should think.
Following a slightly unsettled opening ten minutes, Latics began to seize control in the only way they know how – by passing. Somewhat unsurprisingly, attacks were mostly initiated via the left wing where Callum McManaman was his usual sprightly self. Espinoza was also a Maloney-esque energetic terrier of a figure in the centre of midfield, and pretty soon his team-mates were joining in the fun.
It took one little quality interchange for the deadlock to be broken. James McArthur provided the neat through ball for McManaman to latch on to. He embarked upon a rampaging run through the opposition penalty area, culminating in a sweet left-foot finish past Smithies’ left hand for a thoroughly satisfying opening goal.
Wigan’s increasing dominance forced the hosts to sit back, a lapse which would soon lead to their continued downfall. Paul Scharner advanced into acres of empty space, picked a leisurely pass and the ball was back in the Huddersfield third before one could say ‘close him down’. Gomez’s well-saved effort was bundled in at the back post by Arouna Kone, who was stood in an offside position when the initial shot came in, but the linesman forgot to put his flag up and Wigan’s lead was doubled.
Taking advice from bloke-on-the-couch Peter Reid, Huddersfield began the second half with greater intent to pressure Wigan’s back three on the ball. It almost paid off immediately, as a misplaced short pass just 16 yards from goal allowed James Vaughan to test Joel Robles for the first time. Thankfully ‘Billy’ was equal to the former England U21 international’s firm strike, blocking the ball away to spare his team-mate further blushes.
Any hopes of a competitive half were soon dashed as the home side’s failure to close down allowed Latics in for a superb third. Another training ground passing move saw Jordi Gomez lay off the ball for an advancing James McArthur, who rocketed an unstoppable right footer into the net via Smithies’ fingertips. Game over? Well, not quite.
With only half an hour left to play, Huddersfield would have to find something soon. Their prayers were answered in double quick time as Calum Woods and Lee Novak combined to add another superb goal to the game’s rapidly growing mini-collection. The former’s inch-perfect cross eluded three Latics defenders on its way to the latter’s forehead, which guided the ball in off Robles’ right hand post for an expertly crafted goal.
Though Huddersfield endeavoured to build on their strike, they could not make further in-roads. A promising spell was stubbed out by some suspiciously efficient time-wasting tactics by the visitors, which resulted in McManaman entering ref Michael Oliver’s book.
The game was sewn up two minutes from time by Arouna Kone, who capitalised on Anthony Gerrard’s heavy touch by finishing with reassuring aplomb. It was highly reminiscent of his first goal for the club at St Mary’s all the way back in August, and raised more than a few smiles on Wigan fans’ faces as they rushed back to their car radios for that all-important quarter final draw.
…But that’s a story for another day. A third 4-1 away win in the cup this season bodes well for the forthcoming tie with Oldham/Everton, which will also be on the road. In fact, Wigan will have to play all their remaining cup games away from the DW Stadium, and it’s a blooming good job – we can’t win there for Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls right now.
I dread to think of that forthcoming Reading match, so I shall leave it until midweek when the FA Cup excitement has subsided to be replaced by stark reality. Gulp.
John Smith’s Stadium image by Tony Hisgett (CC2.0)