The time is upon us again: Little ole’ Wigan Athletic are playing in the quarter final of the FA Cup.
It was 31 years ago when we faced Leeds United in the same round, with us being then as we are now, a League One team and Leeds, being then as they are now, an average second tier side.
I was 14, and sat on a crush barrier, nervously peering at the Leeds hooligans, fully expecting them to riot at any time.
But on a cold windy day, good old Bobby Campbell missed a sitter and Leeds got the win courtesy of a goal by John “son of Nobby” Stiles. We even had an FA Cup record which lives on to this day, remixed and digitally mastered several times over.
The miracle of 2013 needs no introduction or further comment right now so I won’t bother, we can’t keep going on about it forever can we? Of course we can!
I often feel that we overlook the achievements of the following year: Wigan Athletic, a Championship side, reaching the semi finals of the FA Cup – at Wembley, and only being eight minutes away from a second consecutive FA Cup final after beating several Premier League teams including Man City (again).
And here we are again with another quarter final incoming. I don’t particularly care that Southampton have appointed Mark Hughes. This game is still there for the taking, given what we have already beaten to get here. Of course, the further we get, the more likely that games tend to go to form and league position. You can’t defy the odds forever. We’re having a pretty good go though!
I have been a bit dismissive of the cup, more out of concern as to what it will do to our league campaign and actually thinking that I’d prefer that we were out of it. I didn’t bother thinking about this in the last round, like most people I thought we’d get stuffed anyway. In any case, I’m happy to continue this “reverse jinxing” in the interests of the club’s progression.
If we were to get through, then the favourites in the other ties would be Man United, Chelsea and Spurs but we’re all daft enough to believe that anything is possible when it comes to our beloved FA Cup.
I am genuinely delighted that we have become so synonymous with the competition in recent years. We are the perfect antidote to all those clubs, players and fans who believe that the league is all that matters and dismiss cup competitions in favour of avoiding relegation, or trying to finish a place higher up the Premier League table.
It’s a highly clichéd statement these days but it is pure “against modern football” to actually go out and win a trophy these days, certainly for several of the Premier League teams we have faced.
We’re at that stage now when even if they don’t take it seriously, the teams left in generally have enough to win the game regardless. It is indeed a familiar roll call when you look at the past winners, with Arsenal in particular featuring heavily.
So it’s no wonder Wigan Athletic get such praise for being a small club who went all the way, as it so very rarely happens these days. Can it happen again? One game at a time I guess, but there’s not many left to go is there? Scary, and exciting times indeed!
Due to a family emergency I found myself in Wimbledon on Wednesday night.
I sat in a pub surrounded by Chelsea fans shouting at the screen as Barcelona dismantled them piece by piece at the Nou Camp.
I wouldn’t have known though, as absorbed as I was in trying to follow the fortunes of Wigan Athletic at Bradford City. As far away as you could get from the Champions League and Catalonia I imagine.
Head down in Twitter and BBC Sport updates I thought our chance had gone, until the 91st minute and that glorious beep as GOAL ALERT: BRADFORD CITY 0-1 WIGAN ATHLETIC (Jacobs) came through.
There’s no telling how important that goal could be in the final shake up come the end of the season. We keep saying how we have the upper hand with our games in hand, but that’s only true if we can win those games in hand.
After the disappointment of Saturday’s result against Scunthorpe a win on Wednesday was needed, although not a given. Our record at Valley Parade is nearly as poor as our record at Ewood Park.
Just the one win there, with Simon Grayson making his home bow as Bantams boss and a poor pitch it had all the ingredients for another poor night for Latics. But as I keep saying you write this side off at your peril.
A win now leaves us in a much stronger position in the league and crucially is a fantastic confidence booster going in to Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final tie with Southampton.
If we can harness half of what we put in to the matches with Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City we could book a return trip to Wembley.
What an achievement that would be for a League One side. But first we need to beat Southampton, a Southampton side who dispatched with the hapless Mauricio Pellegrino on Monday night. Mark Hughes was announced as his successor on Wednesday night and the timing is far from ideal for Paul Cook’s side. Southampton will now be an unknown quantity but this side have already beaten supposed stronger opposition.
Nothing should stop us doing the same again Sunday, let’s pack the DW let’s shout till we’re hoarse and show the country what we’re about and book that return to Wembley.
What a difference a day makes. Never mind that, what a difference one goal can make.
It looked like Latics were going to fail to win a game that they seemed to have dominated until Michael Jacobs’ late strike gave them all three points on Wednesday.
There is an issue to address here – but right there and then, Latics fans, whether they were at the game or not, weren’t interested in that. They just wanted to celebrate like ‘Crackers’ was Jason Roberts, Ben Watson and Will Grigg all rolled into one. Those are special moments, they are what watching football is all about and there are simply to be enjoyed.
The issue is our form – both in terms of performances and results. Firstly let’s deal with the results.
We’d only won one league game in the last five before Wednesday. In fact we’d only won four in the last 11 league games.
As we have said before, games in hand are only good if you get the results you need. And Latics need to be winning theirs. That goal on Wednesday night changed both the attitude of many Latics fans and also the way that the table looks.
However we have to remember that our last three games have been against Blackburn, Scunthorpe and Bradford. While the latter two are not in good form, all three are good teams and we are unbeaten through that run and have taken five of those nine points available.
Add to that the disastrous state of the pitch at the ground formerly known as Valley Parade, plus the fact that the pressure is on us and it is increasing all the time on what is mainly a young squad, this gives a little more perspective on what we are achieving.
After the goal on Wednesday we all enjoyed the scenes with the players celebrating with the fans. It was pointed out that the players really showed that they care. But they did that last season as well. They really cared then. They just weren’t good enough. This year the players certainly are good enough. There is a great unity and spirit in the squad and it is showing. This will be really important as we come to a really hectic run in and we continue to compete in two competitions.
In such situations, the onus is on the more experienced players to stand up and deliver. I think that two deserve a special mention. We all love Will Grigg. Every football fan loves a goalscorer and he is a superb one at this level. A couple of his recent goals may have been fortunate to be credited to him, but he was there in the right place and played his part and that is all we can ask of him.
Also Michael Jacobs deserves a mention.
He has had some stick over the last few weeks and months. I thought he had a terrific start to the season at MK Dons and confidently predicted that he would be our most influential player. This may not be my only prediction to turn out to be wrong, and he hasn’t played as well as I expected him to. But I don’t think he deserves the stick he gets at times and in the last four games he has scored two winning goals, got an assist at Blackburn (though I think the goal should have been his) and I felt he was our best player against Scunthorpe, though that may not be saying an awful lot.
When Nick Powell swans around the pitch for 89 minutes and then pops up with a goal he is hailed as a hero. Jacobs is always running.
He is always available and wants the ball. And he has certainly been influential over the last handful of games.
The other issue is over our goal scoring.
The seven goals we scored against Oxford seems to have been a turning point. In the 22 league games up to and including Oxford away, we scored 49 goals at an average of over 2.2 per game, and in the process scored three or more goals on nine occasions. In the 12 games since Oxford, we have only scored 14 times at an average of under 1.2 per game and hit the back of the net three or more times only twice.
Since we played at Oxford our goals seem to have dried up a little bit and that that has affected the results we are getting.
Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for Oxford to visit us for this trend to revert back.
I won’t even go into the defensive performance against Scunthorpe. It was surely an off day for what has been a totally dominant unit in all competitions this season.
Hopefully both defence and attack will be on form on Sunday for the big cup game because Wigan expects and my family really want a trip to Wembley.
Every time I say that it’s a good time to be a Latics fan, another wheel comes off.
On that basis, I’ll temper my expectations from here on in. After a great draw at Blackburn, we scrambled to a draw against a very average Scunthorpe side.
On Wednesday night we managed a last minute winner against Bradford, a team which produces more hot and cold than a caravan park shower block, despite dominating for much of the game.
So, is it really a case of the cup run getting in the way of the league form?
I suppose we’ll find out on Sunday when Southampton roll in to town. If we destroy Mark Hughes’ new charges in the manner we did Bournemouth and West Ham, in particular, I’ll concede that the players have got one eye on Wembley.
If, and I maintain this will happen, we make it all the way to the final, it’s disappointing to know that the FA have changed the rules to make sure clubs like us have less chance of playing in Europe than the 8th place Premier League team.
When we won the cup in 2013, even had we lost we would have played in the Europa League, starting in the qualifying rounds. This was because Man City had already qualified for the Champions League.
Now, though, the loser of the FA Cup Final gets nothing, and the places all drip ever southwards in the Premier League.
It’s a sorry state of affairs, and one which exposes the PL for the money-grubbing boys club it is, that they would rather a mid-table club qualify for Europe over a club getting to an FA Cup Final. But, it is what it is. Let’s hope Latics, once again, put two fingers up to the footballing establishment and qualify by right again this season.
And a quick final word about the non-takeover. The latest we know is that the takeover is “not imminent”. Can it be that the potential Chinese investors are waiting to see if we get promoted? It’s entirely feasible that this is the case, given that we have even less chance of making someone rich in League One than in the Championship.
And if they pull out, what then? Well, it’s always felt a little odd to me.
Dave Whelan said he would only sell to someone who will continue the ethos of the club, and yet has chosen to sell to people who have no history in football, and whose track record is in capital investment in casinos and concerts.
Not for the first time, I’ll state again, here, that we don’t yet know the full story.
It’s been another gripping week in the life of Wigan Athletic as they go in search of what would be an unprecedented league and FA Cup double.
Latics looked likely to be on the end of a surprise defeat at home to Scunthorpe United on Saturday but they rescued a vital point with a late Gary Roberts equaliser to keep them in the hunt for automatic promotion. The players showed their grit and determination to keep going even when they weren’t at their best.
Latics players then had to deal with a difficult away fixture at Bradford City.
Their character and promotion credentials were once again tested on a terrible pitch and in blustery conditions. Due to the adverse conditions Latics had to ditch their normal passing game and resort to some long ball tactics. The omens weren’t good but they still managed to be the dominant team and created plenty of chances.
As time ticked away the match looked to be heading towards a draw but the players once again demonstrated their never-say-die attitude. In added time Will Grigg played a neat pass to Michael Jacobs just inside the area and the winger produced a superb finish to give Latics a huge boost in the race for automatic promotion. It was a great moment for the players and fans as they celebrated what could be a crucial three points.
It’s likely to be a rollercoaster of emotions before the end of the season but we should all embrace the experience rather than be fearful of it.
In recent times we’ve been very lucky to have eventful seasons. No dull mid-table finishes for Latics; it’s promotion races or relegation battles, incredible FA Cup wins or near misses.
But there are still some Latics fans that will never be satisfied.
Unfortunately we seem to have a significant element that will always look for the negative, I call them the doom-mongers, and they always seem to expect the worst to happen.
The boos at the end of the game with Scunthorpe are symptomatic of some fans’ expectation that every single game is going to be won and that draws and defeats are not part of football.
This is the modern malaise. In our modern consumer society we demand instant gratification, we are being conditioned to expect instant sporting success and losing cannot be understood as part and parcel of the game.
That is why it is so much easier to follow the Big Six teams at the top of the Premier League.
They have seemingly limitless amounts of money, they have the most expensive players from around the world and they play in super stadiums. They win almost every week, and when they do lose, the fans find it very hard to cope and produce hysterical responses. ArsenalFanTV being a prime example of fans that have lost a sense of perspective.
Latics have the exciting prospect of an FA Cup quarter-final against Southampton on Sunday and we should all fully enjoy the moment. Southampton this week sacked Mauricio Pellegrino and appointed Mark Hughes on Wednesday night.
Latics will be hoping that the Saints don’t get the new manager bounce following Hughes’ appointment.
Latics are certainly capable of causing another upset after already defeating three Premier League clubs including the Champions-elect Manchester City, but whatever happens please support your team and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.