There must be something seriously wrong – Latics on terrestrial television twice in one season? Somebody at ITV Sport knew the much-anticipated Wigan Time was long overdue.
A series of excellent performances in what must be Wigan’s greatest cup season since… ever meant any confidence, though cautious, was not necessarily misplaced. There is a marked difference, however, between a Tuesday night Capital One Cup Second Round tie at Nottingham Forest and a Saturday afternoon ‘prime time’ FA Cup Quarter Final.
Ahhh, the inescapable aura of a cup tie. It’s that unique all-or-nothing, ‘ninety minutes to save your life’ atmosphere that characterises the world’s greatest domestic cup competition. You might be a bit rubbish but in the eyes of the Football Association Challenge Cup, all teams from division 1 to 100, with one thousand or one million supporters, are created equal.
…and then they decide to screen Man United v West Ham. But we are in danger of criticising the schedulers once again, so one shall draw a line under such suggestions and move swiftly on to strictly footballing matters. Possibly.
Dave Whelan must have given one of his moving pre-match dressing room speeches, because Latics truly looked up for this cup tie from the very off, pressurising, closing down and charging at challenges like in FA Cup derby clashes of old. It was a world away from the unspeakable events of last week and instilled a warm feeling deep inside – Latics had turned up. *Rubs hands*
Shaun Maloney had unluckily struck the inside of the post on ten minutes, and as Arouna Kone headed narrowly over, one sensed the game starting to tip in the visitors’ favour. Robles momentarily stretched to repel a Jelavic shot and confidence was visibly growing.
Wigan’s dominance was to be rubber-stamped by a devastating spell of four minutes that left the hosts scrabbling on the pavement. Maynor Figueroa started the veritable HGV rolling as he capitalised on some iffy defending to convert Gomez’s corner with great ease, nodding home unchallenged at the back post.
Rattled, Everton were to accelerate their own downfall as another misplaced pass was neatly gobbled up by a grateful Callum McManaman. The childhood Toffees supporter wasn’t about to pass up this magnificent opportunity to double his side’s lead, and finished wonderfully past Jan Mucha. Wowee.
In his post-match interview, Macca claimed he ‘could not remember’ the goal, and you can understand what he is attempting to communicate. It must all have seemed a bit of a dream as he outpaced Distin to lift the ball over the Everton keeper at Goodison Park.
Goals were becoming like Wigan Corporation buses – you wait for one and three show up at once. Jordi Gomez was the beneficiary of another slick passing move, firing home magnificently through a sea of bodies from outside the area. As the chances flew in with delightful regularity, Graeme Jones reached for his phone to cancel the club’s appointment with Derek Acorah – any remaining ghosts of last week were well and truly exorcised.
McManaman’s afternoon was about to end prematurely as a niggle forced him down the tunnel. But it did not stop the Latics barrage, and Maloney was soon testing Mucha’s fingertips from a looping free-kick.
As was painfully necessary, Everton raised their game for the start of the second half, offering hope this may yet be a classic cup quarter final.
Home spirits were further raised when Kevin Mirallas was brought down 22 yards from goal by Shaun Maloney, creating the prospect of a Leighton Baines set piece opportunity. Unfortunately for the ex-Latic, his effort only succeeded in finding the waiting arms of a thankful Joel Robles.
Frustration began to bubble over as the home side struggled to find a way through that resolute backline. Latics could comfortably take their time in possession and slow the game down, increasing their tally now secondary to manufacturing a morale-boosting clean sheet.
Nevertheless, Latics could also be witnessed streaming forward on a number of occasions. McManaman’s willing replacement, Ryo Miyaichi, exhibited raw speed and talent, but his time on the pitch was also to be curtailed by a hefty cup tie challenge. His season could now be over – the poor lad has had no luck with injuries in his time at Wigan.
Everton had their best chances in the final ten minutes of the game, but a mixture of superb Robles shot-stoppery and shell-shocked shooting summed up the hosts’ afternoon – nothing had gone their way. And hey, we can certainly sympathise with that.
As Baines fired one more attempt well wide of Joel’s right hand post, referee Kevin Friend put the Toffees out of their misery. This time, the Wigan fans’ chant wasn’t just bravado – Latics really are on their way to Wembley.
Seriously, I am at a loss to explain quite how or why we can go from one extreme to the other within the space of a week. Is the DW really cursed? Or is Wigan’s name being etched into the FA Cup as we speak? Two more similar performances and that crazy dream will be an incredible reality.
You’re expecting me to write a bit about the afternoon’s Premier League fixtures, aren’t you? Well I ain’t going to. We might be back in that relegation zone but forget that and phone your boss to pre-book a day off work. The capital beckons.
Bus image courtesy Hestajenna @ Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0). All others by Illarterate (CC3.0)