Macclesfield Town believe referee Roger East gave Wigan Athletic the benefit of a "Luis Suarez moment" in ending their hopes of joining Luton Town as a second Blue Square Bet Premier side in the FA Cup fifth-round draw.
The Silkmen put up a classy performance but felt there were echoes of the controversial Suarez handball goal that knocked out Mansfield Town in round three in the way Macclesfield were denied the penalty that could have led to a different outcome at Moss Rose on Saturday.
Wigan were ahead by the single goal – also a penalty – that ultimately separated two teams 82 places apart in the league ladder when defender Roman Golobart sent Macclesfield striker Waide Fairhurst tumbling in the box. Wiltshire official East waved play on despite the home side claiming a push.
"It was a clear-cut penalty," Macclesfield midfielder Sam Wedgbury said. "Aside from that one mistake, I thought he reffed it brilliant, to be honest, but sometimes I feel like the bigger teams get the rub of the green. You see it on TV – like when Mansfield play Liverpool, Suarez handballs it. If that's a Mansfield player it probably gets seen."
Saturday's incident provoked a bitter reaction from Macclesfield manager Steve King, who said he had told East he should "ring me and apologise" once he had seen it again on television but 23-year-old Wedgbury was more magnanimous, insisting Macclesfield should not blame only the referee.
"We had a couple more chances that could have got us the replay," he said. "We missed a chance with a free header in the first half but if they get the same chance, it's a goal. That's the difference in margins, really.
"Nine times out of 10 the bigger teams get the decisions. And to be fair we had one go our way against Marine [in the first round] and it was unfortunate for them on that occasion because they rely on revenue from cup runs as much as us."
The seventh-minute penalty converted by Jordi Gomez, after Macclesfield defender Thierry Audel had up-ended winger Callum McManaman in full flight, put Wigan into the fifth round for the first time since 1987, when they reached the quarter-finals as a Third Division club.
More recently their struggles to stay in the Premier League have coincided with dismal performances in the FA Cup, with defeats against fourth-tier opponents in two of the last three seasons.
Their manager Roberto Martinez risked another embarrassment by making eight changes on Saturday but reckons that for the first time he has a squad capable of putting together a Cup run at the same time as winning a relegation battle.
"I'm very satisfied that we now have a group of players capable of being competitive in any game, which is something that two or three years ago we couldn't do," Martinez said.
"A Cup run is not a distraction – quite the opposite. For us, playing in the Premier League is like having a Cup final every weekend and we don't want to lose that status but we have players who want to show what they can do and there are only positives to be taken from these games."
Nonetheless, it would be a surprise if many of those striving to impress Martinez on this occasion will be called on for league action at Stoke tomorrow night.
Macclesfield: ANYON 7/10, JACKSON 7, AUDEL 5, BROWN 7, BRAHAM-BARRETT 6, MACKRETH 7, WEDGBURY 7, MURTAGH 8, KISSOCK 7, FAIRHURST 6, BARNES-HOMER 6
Wigan: ROBLES 7, MUSTOE 6, FIGUEROA 7, GOLOBERT 6, STAM 6, ESPINOZA 7, VYVIE 6, McMANAMAN 6, GOMEZ 6, DICKO 6, HENRIQUEZ 6
Goal: Wigan Athletic Gomez pen 7. Substitutions: Macclesfield Town McDonald (Fairhurst, 76, Winn (Kissock, 77). Wigan Athletic Jones 8 (Fyvie, 53), Lopez 5 (Dicko, 66). Bookings: Macclesfield Town Fairhurst, Braham- Barrett, Jackson. Wigan Athletic Mustoe, Figueroa, Espinoza, Henriquez. Man of the match Murtagh. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Macclesfield 47%. Wigan 53%. Attempts on target: Macclesfield 5. Wigan 1. Referee R East (Wiltshire). Attendance 5,849
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