Let’s be brutally honest – Ben Watson probably means nothing to Manchester City fans.
Yeah, some might have suffered mildly bruised egos when Sir Benjamin leapt to defeat Joe Hart from 6 yards, but such things quickly became lost among title challenges, superstar signings and breathtaking European nights.
…All of which serves to further magnify the achievement. At the risk of blowing my monthly romanticism budget (again), that certainly was the Jolly Green Giant vs. the Borrowers, Jussi Jääskeläinen vs. David Perkins or any other ‘very big bloke vs. very small dude’ comparison you can copy-paste from 2 minutes of Google research.
“Hah! That blogger guy will find any excuse to talk about it again.”
Okay, you’re right. This wasn’t the FA Cup Final at Wembley – it was the FA Youth Cup 5th Round at the Robin Park Pie Dome. Who needs goalposts when you have a pile of rocks and a wheely bin stolen from Old Mr. T’s ginnel?
But much like… er… a certain game, this was a (surprisingly?) engaging cup engagement. Which is a doubly apt term considering how City spent the entire first half in a luxurious ‘wedding mode’, their only real opportunity falling to Lukas Nmecha in the 4th minute. Arnold Baxendale’s subsequent goal-line clearance was characteristic of the hosts’ defensive resilience, determination and steel worthy of a Lancastrian cup derby.
Though Josh Gregory also headed Alex Lingard’s ball into goalie Daniel Grimshaw’s (presumably) well-chiselled stomach on the 15-minute mark, it was a half devoid of shots on goal. But don’t you fret, dear reader, for there were still three halves and four goals to come.
I hate to admit it, but the pitch was becoming a factor. I would liken it to crumbs on a snooker table, or maybe dust on a compact disk. At least, Tosin Adarabioyo would like to believe it was not he, but the sandy divots that allowed Callum Lang to assume control and fire through Grimshaw’s stingin’ fingers. Either way, eleven Latics players and about 500 home fans (including Gary Caldwell) in the (surprisingly posh) West Stand seemed thoroughly delighted with the outcome.
“We’re defending well here. If City are going to score, it’ll probably be from a free kick.”
Oh, I had to tempt fate, didn’t I? Momentarily, Chris Merrie cleaned out Jacob Davenport on the edge of the area, and whaddaya know? William Patching’s precise free kick left keeper Kelland Absalom thoroughly unsighted. Next week I’m wearing a ball gag to the DW.
As the game neared its (scheduled) climax, Latics became increasingly adventurous, venturing from their penalty area upon the instruction of certain individuals in the dugout/surprisingly posh Champagne Lounge. Which is where Big GC was (probably) dining.
And by the time the (surprisingly posh) board was raised for an added three minutes, Captain Cald ought to have ordered his final round – sub Isaac Buckley-Ricketts somehow sliced his 8-yard formality square of the North Stand goalmouth. The opportunity City had been saving up their entire repertoire of tricks, flicks ‘n’ through balls for.
It is all leading up to the inevitable Ben Watson moment. Wigan win a free kick on the right wing as an 18-man ruckus erupts, resulting in yellow cards for two chest-pumping perpetrators. Of course, it’s all a ruse to whip the home crowd into a cup frenzy.
The free kick. Lingard’s sublime cross is met by sub Thomas Powell, who needs only push the ball goalwards for an historic victory in Latics U18s’ short and distinguished career. He does… but straight at the goalie, who falls backward upon himself with the ball clutched firmly at his chest.
“That was the cup tie right there.”
Cheers for that, Sherlock.
With both sides (but especially Latics) heavy legged on a heavy surface, extra time was a largely laborious affair. Joshua Gregory did feed Callum Lang, but the latter hesitated, allowing a plethora of pesky defenders to waddle across and say hi. A goal kick was the relatively boring result.
Third half stoppage time was even longer, as ref Mr T. Nield (of wheely bins fame) added a bit of extra time (on extra time on extra time) for City to score their penalty. Absalom hauled down the dangerous Nmecha, who swiftly dispatched his spot kick with a grin.
Fourth half stoppage time was longer still – precisely a third of the half itself at a watchbusting 5 (five? Five!) minutes… minimum. It was here that City cleaned up, Buckley-Ricketts atoning for his earlier miss with the greatest goal of a great game. Which was a close contest from start to finish, and well worth the five quid admission fee.
The whole thing required plenty of stamina, however – in fact, I believe the game is still going on some 20 hours later! I’m just hearing that the referee has found an extra 30 minutes at the DW sandbath… we’re into the 37th half!