Ouch – what a difference a week makes in cup competitions in English football.
Seven days ago tens of thousands of Manchester City fans were marvelling at the magnanimity of the magnificent Sunderland supporters, after their Black Cat team had lost 3-1 in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley.
It was so easy to admire their sentiments and to reciprocate the compliments. Well now it’s City’s turn to stand tall in defeat and extend congratulations to a returning hero and his team of warriors from Wigan.
Against all the odds and expectations, ‘little old Wigan’ dumped the Manchester aristocrats out of the FA Cup for a second consecutive season. On face value it beggars belief, but it would be a very belligerent sky blue who begrudged Uwe Rosler’s side their victory.
This wasn’t a fluke, despite what the statistics suggest, with City having an astonishing 69% of the possession.
It’s been so easy for City’s fans in recent times. They bask in the afterglow of triumph, revel in the replays of goals scored on the cinema-sized screens in City Square and hang on the words of the after match interviews with Manuel Pellegrini or City’s Man-of-the-Match.
As a City fan of more than four decades (yes, I know I look younger…NOT) the past three years have been a comparative triumph with three domestic trophies – four if, at Roberto Mancini’s insistence, we count the Community Shield.
Huge expectations engulf the Etihad Stadium at every home game and, to City’s shame, the chatter in the stands was all about the FA Cup semi final encounter with Arsenal and another trip to Wembley.
Only someone forgot to tell Uwe and his men just how it was going to be. I hate to say it and I am as guilty as the next man or woman, but I was mentally making plans for the trek ‘darn sarf’ on semi final weekend in April, without paying due respect to a gutsy and impressive Wigan Athletic.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it arrogance, but it was some way short of humility.
City got what they deserved on the day…a not so sweet FA, nowt, nada, nothing!
Talk about déjà vu – City have twice done the hard job and beaten Chelsea in the FA Cup, only to come unstuck against those damned ‘pie-eaters’, also famed as producers of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, a confectionery delight from the North West.
It leaves a nasty after taste that Manuel Pellegrini had pledged that the FA Cup quarter final was City’s most important remaining fixture, simply on the basis, it was the next one up.
As a big advocate of City’s cultured Chilean manager, it pains me to say that on this occasion, Mr Pellegrini must have been telling ‘porkies’.
Trust levels in ‘our MP’ have grown steadily throughout the season and the recently heard Lamborghini song is testament to the fans’ admiration of the man from Santiago.
That trust was put to the test, and alas, found wanting when Pellegrini sent Martin Demichelis and Joleon Lescott out as City’s central defensive duo. The apprehension was palpable when the team was announced.
It was a sense of foreboding that proved correct when the antiquated Argentine defender allowed the hardly nimble Marc-Antoine Fortune, to wriggle past before felling him in the 18 yard box.
Jordi Gomez scored from the resulting penalty and Wigan were good value for their lead.
With the Nou Camp clearly dominating his thinking, Pellegrini had elected to leave out Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Fernandinho and Silva from the starting XI. It probably cost him any shot at FA Cup glory.
It genuinely saddens me to say this, but Micah Richards has regressed beyond belief from the days when his play promised so much as a teenage prospect. Both he and the under-performing Gael Clichy were about as much use as a man with a fork at a soup sampling.
Wigan’s decisive 47th minute winner from James Perch owed everything to the ineptitude of the two wing backs.
Richards, with his hands clasped behind his back like a choir boy, stood off James McCarthy allowing the Wigan man to cross to the far post.
Clichy’s reaction time was as a sloth on valium, as Perch nipped in front and scored an easy goal.
City’s defending was abysmal and, without Vincent Kompany, one wonders how it would stand up to scrutiny under Trade Descriptions legislation.
On a day like this, it’s perhaps a backhanded compliment to say that Javi Garcia was City’s best performer over the 90 minutes. Captain for the day Yaya Toure was effectively anonymous – no mean achievement when you’re the biggest player on the field in more ways than one.
Substituted in the 53rd minute as part of a triple change by an increasingly desperate Pellegrini, Yaya disappeared straight down the tunnel for reasons as yet unknown.
Disappointing Negredo and Navas also gave way as Silva, Milner and Dzeko were introduced. Having wasted an hour, City began to play at a faster tempo and put the hitherto composed Wigan defence on the backfoot.
The pressure bore fruit when Samir Nasri’s 68th minute, 20-yard strike, caught Scott Carson unaware in the Wigan goal and City pegged it back to 2-1.
Having grown accustomed to Houdini acts in recent times e.g. 2-0 down to Watford in the 4th Round transformed into a 4-2 win, the 44,000 home crowd were once again expectant.
Just how Wigan made it through to the 95th minute final whistle, City will never know. Dzeko hit the post, Carson denied Aguero twice and Boyce cleared from underneath his own crossbar with Edin waiting to tap home.
City kept pouring forward but Richards flashed a shot wide left, before Dzeko saw another header drift agonisingly the wrong side of the post.
It’s not sour grapes to say referee, Anthony Taylor, was bordering on inept, but Wigan were nonetheless worthy winners.
Pellegrini now has to lick his wounds and go again in the UCL at the Nou Camp this Wednesday.
A win by two or more goals, would begin to blur the astonishing horror of City falling to Wigan for a second time in less than a calendar year.
Hours later it’s still incomprehensible but, if City are to find any consolation it must be in the guise of those seven defiant, yet strangely defeatist, words, ‘ Now we can concentrate on the league…’
By David Walker