No fans, no history, tin-pot, rugby town, empty seats the insults are well versed and we’ve heard them all a million times before. Curiously more than often these very same insults come from supporters of clubs that you would expect to have some sort of alignment to little Wigan. Clubs of a similar size, clubs like Bury, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Oldham, Luton.
Clubs who would do anything to have even an ounce of what we’ve had, you would expect more solidarity from our football league cousins. More recognition for what we’ve achieved. More pride in the way a small club rose to the pinnacle of the game. We’ve lived their dreams and my how we are still living the dream, Monday night will go down in history and for me could be one of the if not the finest nights in our history.
I was absolutely gutted after the FA Cup fifth round draw, after how we had successfully dispatched of Bournemouth and West Ham I had got a severe bout of cup fever. Desperate for a supposedly easy draw to see us through to the quarter-finals and that tantalising taste of a possible Wembley return, when the last two balls left in the draw were us and Manchester City I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I believe the phrase I uttered started with an F and ended with a K.
Once again though this Wigan Athletic side, this absolutely wondrous little football club that we’re all part of showed me just how wrong I was. Why worry about facing Manchester City? Why worry facing one of the best sides in Europe when Paul Cook and this set of lads that have been assembled over the last few seasons are the opponents. Nobody gave us a hope in hells chance when the draw was made, and I wasn’t the only Latics fan who for once didn’t have much faith in us getting a result.
The press coverage beforehand was unprecedented since our Premier League days, probably since we won the competition in 2013. The history between Latics and Manchester City, especially in the FA Cup makes for a great story and that was exploited to the maximum by the broadsheets, TV & Radio. I did a pre match special with BBC Radio Manchester at the DW, ahead of the match and being in the DW that early helped to add to the feel of anticipation.
The game itself felt like it lasted an eternity, onslaught after onslaught on the Latics goal was met by a resolute defence marshalled superbly by Dan Burn and Chey Dunkley. The sending off of Fabian Delph obviously helped, it was at that point that thoughts of us possibly getting something from the game started to creep in. The sending off and the fracas that continued in the tunnel at half-time turned the atmosphere up a notch.
Despite the sending off Manchester City had a bigger foothold in the game in the second half than in the first with the benefit of eleven men, it was to Latics credit that once again they held strong and repelled everything that City threw at us. Even the introduction of Kevin De Bruyne didn’t see the Latics goal breached. Then it came, the moment that will be written in to Wigan Athletic folklore. The moment that can be filed alongside Ben Watson’s header, James Perch’s goal at the Etihad, Charles Nzogbia’s goal to relegate West Ham and Shaun Maloney’s goal to beat Manchester City.
Will Grigg had worked himself in to the ground but hadn’t had any clear cut chances in the second half, with the lads looking out on their feet Grigg with that fantastic predatory nature he has sniffed a chance. Picking up the ball on the left hand side of the pitch, Grigg made for the area and I can’t remember much else but the ball nestling in the back of the net. It felt like slow motion, it left me out of breath. It felt like the best atmosphere I’ve ever witnessed at the Dave Whelan Stadium.
The last twelve minutes were hell, even worse when the referee decided he would play four minutes injury time and actually played six minutes. Manchester City laid siege to the Latics goal, Pep Guardiola possibly the finest manager of his generation getting more and more worked up on the touchline as the match went on. Sadly for City it was all in vein and little Wigan had once again – not for the first time stopped the billionaires from Manchester City in their tracks.
A squad made up of free transfers and Will Grigg – a bargain £1.3m had taken on the most expensive club side in Europe and won. What a story! Is it a bigger achievement than 2013? Or even 2014? I’m not sure but it certainly feels like the most astounding result. We were on a level footing with Manchester City at Wembley in 2013, in 2014 we were having a decent season in the Championship. In 2018 we’re a million miles from our Premier League days, yet still we managed to knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup.
It’s a question that we’ve been asking all season, just how far can this Wigan Athletic side go? The last two league results may have knocked confidence ever so slightly but after Monday night the answer is this side can go as far as it wants to go. Southampton lie in wait for Paul Cook’s side in the FA Cup quarter-finals, they’re struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table this season but still have a very talented side. Once again we’ll go in to the match as under dogs but with this side, this club, this ethos installed from David Sharpe down to Paul Cook we’ll have a fighting chance.
Before then though it’s back to the day job, and Latics need to get back on track in the league. Shrewsbury the leaders could well be faltering, Blackburn look best placed to capitalise but we’ve three games in hand and we have to get back to winning ways. That starts with the other FA Cup heroes from League One – Rochdale.
First published in the Wigan Post, Friday 23rd February 2018