It was repetitive serendipity for Wigan Athletic at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as the Latics yet again pulled the FA Cup shock over Manchester City with the Championship side dumping the Premier League high-flyers out of the FA Cup by a 2-1 score at the Quarterfinal stage, 2 rounds prior to when they did the same last year in the final at Wembley Stadium. This time it was Jordi Gomez and ex-Newcastle man James Perch who played the roles of hero for the Lancashire based club, as 1st-year manager (and former Man City player) Uwe Rosler has picked up where former head-man Roberto Martinez left off in leading Wigan to their second straight Wembley trip via England’s most prestigious cup competition.
As for the match itself, it was one rarely dominated by Manchester City as Wigan held their own right from the off and played nearly equal to City during the opening stages. Admittedly, it was a reduced side that Manuel Pellegrini trotted out for the Citizens with the massive Costel Pantilimon relieving Joe Hart in goal for the day and Martin Demichelis, Gael Clichy, and Micah Richards all getting the start in place of the regulars. For Wigan, it was a strong side featuring captain Emerson Boyce, James McArthur, and Callum McManaman all in the starting 11, although last year’s FA Cup final hero Ben Watson was unable to play a part due to his suffering a broken tibia and fibula earlier this year against Barnsley.
Regardless, as previously mentioned, Wigan competed quite well early on and were rewarded on 27 minutes when Jordi Gomez sent Pantilimon the wrong way from the penalty spot after match official Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot when Wigan’s Marc-Antoine Fortune was brought down by City’s Martin Demichelis after the Latic’s striker powered past the Argentine on the left side of defense. The resulting spot kick was flawless and complete with a subtle head fake as Gomez sent the throngs (Yes THRONGS) of visiting Wigan supporters into delirium at the opposite end of an otherwise shaken Etihad. The 1-0 lead was a margin Wigan carried into the halftime interval, which left Pellegrini to plot how to break down a thus far resolute Wigan back line, including some fine stops from keeper Scott Carson.
However, Pellegrini’s troops barely had any time to implement whatever tactic they discussed at the break after it, as James Perch prodded home for the visitors less than 2 minutes after the restart following some strong wing play from James McArthur to put the massive underdogs Wigan 2-0 up. The goal was well and truly born out of sheer determination from McArthur, whose journey to the byline with the ball made it all possible before his ensuing cross into the box was stabbed past Pantilimon by Perch, who came out of nowhere to beat a lethargic Gael Clichy to the ball despite the Frenchman having over a full yard of positioning over Perch as the ball came in. The goal symbolized Wigan’s spirit compared to Man City’s throughout the game, and came to represent the final result as well with Wigan being the harder-working, more tenacious side despite whatever monetary gaps stand between the 2 clubs (And trust me, those gaps are SUBSTANTIAL).
Despite Wigan’s 2 goal advantage, you never really got the feeling that the tie was beyond Man City’s reach, with a lot of that faith going back to their storming comeback over fellow Championship side Watford earlier in the competition, a comeback in which City trailed 2-0 at the half before going on to win 4-2 at home. Indeed, the mood of City changed following Wigan’s second and it appeared that the light bulb finally went off for them, and it was reflected in both their style of play with more aggression and hunger for the ball along with their managerial decisions, as Pellegrini made the rare triple-sub on 53 minutes to bring on the combined firepower of Edin Dzeko, James Milner, and David Silva. The Citizens pressed heavily to pull a goal back after the change and that goal was met 15 minutes later on 68 minutes overall with Samir Nasri firing a bullet past Carson from outside the box that skipped into the bottom left corner of goal. The goal came off of a corner for City and Nasri was set up nicely for the strike by a Micah Richard’s header, putting the Frenchman in perfect position to pull one back, which he did, for the home side. The goal, as many are nowadays, was controversial from the Wigan perspective though, as Nasri’s blast skipped under the outstretched leg of a clearly offside Joleon Lescott before going past Carson, undoubtedly affecting his sight of the ball, although no call was made and the goal stood.
The goal left Manchester City with around 20 minutes to grab a second and at the very least force a replay at the DW Stadium in Wigan, but the Wigan defense had other ideas as practically all 11 men on the pitch dropped back and defended in a splendid display of team organization and placement to keep Man City out. The truly golden chance for City fell to substitute Edin Dzeko, who should have had a nice easy tap-in from about 6 yards out but was denied by a last gasp sliding challenge from the Latic captain Boyce that deflected the effort out for a corner. That challenge, and its polar opposite from Clichy for City, proved to be the difference on the day as Wigan held on for the dramatic 2-1 victory and yet another stunner over a yet again embarrassed looking Manchester City, who for some reason can’t muster the heart or spirit to quell their neighbors to the West, and not the ones you might think of.