Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2: Slipshod City fall victim again to Wigan's shocking self-belief in the FA Cup
Wigan will now take on Arsenal in the semi-final at Wembley
Sunday 09 March 2014
The lightning did not just strike twice, it electrified the FA Cup. For those who believe the competition has been stripped bare of its old values, this had enough romance for Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, rather than Vincent Kompany, to appear on the front cover of the matchday programme.
Perhaps Manuel Pellegrini will not mind since he hated answering questions on the subject, but talk of a Manchester City quadruple that began to fade after the defeat to Barcelona has now gone with the wind. It is Wigan who for the fourth time in 12 months are improbably going to Wembley.
They have made the journey under three different managers but, as the Etihad Stadium emptied, there would have been very few who would have denied Uwe Rösler his glory. When he played at Maine Road, his chairman, Francis Lee, remarked that the only trophies Manchester City were likely to earn were “cups for cock-ups”. Now, Rösler might win the real thing.
This, in its way, was a better performance than the one that saw them lift the Cup at Manchester City’s expense in May. Then City were a divided and disintegrating club. They had surrendered the title to Manchester United, their manager, Roberto Mancini, was about to be sacked and the dressing room was riven by dissent. Then, Wigan were at least still a Premier League club.
Now they were playing a relegated side in their own stadium and Ben Watson, the goalscorer, who at Wembley had overturned the shortest odds ever offered for an FA Cup final, was watching with a broken leg. The bookmakers, whose judgement had proved so faulty in the Cup final, were offering 5-2 that City would progress to the semi-finals by scoring four goals or more.
Towards the end, as Stan Collymore bellowed into the Talksport microphone that “this is literally the Alamo”, they had opportunities to score more than four. Edin Dzeko sent a header on to Scott Carson’s post that rebounded inches from David Silva’s feet. When another effort flew just wide of the post, the Bosnian sank to his knees.
Then with time sliding by at the speed of motorway traffic, Dzeko was somehow denied an open goal by a wonderful block from the Wigan captain, Emmerson Boyce. “That was a match-winning tackle, a decisive moment in the tie and that shows the willpower that exists at our club,” Rösler reflected. His ties to City meant he had not celebrated the win, merely shaken hands with Pellegrini before disappearing into the tunnel.
For all their late dominance, City broke through only once when Micah Richards headed Gaël Clichy’s corner directly into Samir Nasri’s path. The man who would have wanted a semi-final against Arsenal more than any other player in Pellegrini’s squad drove left-footed into the corner of Carson’s net. As the ball sped past, Joleon Lescott took a swing at it and, since he was standing in a palpably offside position, it was probably just as well he did not connect.
That was City for the final 30 minutes of the quarter final. The one that played the opening hour was very different. When they lined up seeking cold revenge for the humbling they had endured at Wembley, they must have seemed horribly intimidating – Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Nasri and Jesus Navas. Dzeko and Silva lay in reserve. In attack City are a fur coat made from pure Siberian mink. Defensively, the knickers come from Primark.
They used to call Roberto Baggio “the divine ponytail” but the one sported by Martin Demichelis is damned. It was his dismissal for a foul on Lionel Messi that smashed every one of his manager’s pre-match calculations against Barcelona in the Champions League. Now he tangled with Marc-Antoine Fortuné and brought the striker clumsily down. Costel Pantilimon reacted to Jordi Gomez’s 27th-minute penalty by sinking to one knee.
Before the tie, City had paraded the League Cup they had won the Sunday before, carried by those who had lifted it in 1976. It was a sign that, though the club is unrecognisable from the one Rösler knew, it still understands the importance of silverware, however minor.
Nevertheless, they began as emptily as they had done against Sunderland in the League Cup final and this time Yaya Touré could not be relied upon to rescue them. Pellegrini had shown his frustration by hauling off his captain as part of a triple substitution that, too late, jolted his players into life.
By then, they were two goals behind as James Perch slid in to beat Clichy to James McArthur’s cutback just after half time. In the fourth round City had come from two goals down to overcome Watford but sooner or later every high-wire act slips and their Cup run had not convinced. Only in the fifth round, against Chelsea, had they performed to their potential.
Generally, those clubs who win the Cup from the second tier make no serious fist of defending it. Sunderland and West Ham, who lifted the trophy in 1973 and 1980, were eliminated at the first hurdle the following year. Southampton, who had beaten Manchester United at Wembley in 1976, were knocked out by Tommy Docherty’s side 10 months later. These were the golden years of the FA Cup and this performance by Wigan belonged there.
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