These clubs share so much history, arch rivals in the Northern Premier League, and the Cheshire League before that, until Wigan were voted into the Football League in place of Southport in 1978.
Macclesfield joined them in 1997 and stayed 15 seasons until their relegation last year, although their paths crossed only once. There were 82 League places between them yesterday yet all that separated the hosts from their Premier League opponents was a seventh-minute penalty.
It proved enough to end brave Macclesfield’s dream of a place in the fifth round, which would have been two stages further than any FA Cup journey had taken them before this season.
Wigan themselves have been to the last 16 only once before and Roberto Martinez, their manager who is preoccupied largely with avoiding relegation, was grateful to Thierry Audel, Macclesfield’s French central defender, for fouling Callum McManaman in the box before the home crowd had warmed up enough to get behind their side, allowing Jordi Gomez to score from the spot. Joe Anyon, who arrived on an emergency loan on Friday after regular goalkeeper Lance Cronin broke his thumb, guessed correctly and got a hand to the Spaniard’s kick, but not firmly enough to keep it out.
Thereafter, Macclesfield confirmed that, under manager Steve King (below), they are a side capable of playing football of a quality not always associated with non-League sides. With better finishing, their play could have seen them send Wigan the same way as Bradford City did in the Capital One Cup.
“We knew that Macclesfield were unbeaten in six games in all competitions and you saw exactly why,” said Martinez, who had gambled by making eight changes from his last Premier League selection.
“They are a well-balanced team, with good pace in the wide areas and a good understanding between the lines.
“We wanted to score the first goal but what we couldn’t do is get the second which would have given us control. As it was, we had to defend really well, had to show good concentration and Macclesfield deserve a lot of credit for that.”
McManaman, whose pace was the biggest threat to the home side in the opening half, went close to increasing Wigan’s lead, dragging his shot narrowly wide at the end of a six-man move, but for much of the opening half the action was at the other end.
Keiran Murtagh and Sam Wedgbury held sway in central midfield leading to a string of chances. Joel Robles, making his debut in Wigan’s goal, was fortunate that Matthew Barnes-Homer, the striker, could not put more power into his shot as Macclesfield responded to the urgings of their fans.
Craig Braham-Barnett then wasted a good break before Wedgbury fired wildly over the top, but John Paul Kissock’s shot would have tested Robles had Maynor Figueroa not made a block. If only Audel had been able to direct his header just a little more towards the corner when Wedgbury’s cross picked him out, the Silkmen would have turned around level.
Murtagh, the ball sticking frustratingly under his foot on a sticky surface as he tried to squeeze in a shot, had the best chance of the second half.
Destiny, in last week’s most shocking cup exit, had been with Bradford, Martinez remarked. This time it was with Wigan.
Macclesfield (4-4-2): Anyon; Jackson, Audel, Brown, Braham-Barrett; Mackreth, Wedgbury, Murtagh, Kissock (Winn, 77); Fairhurst (McDonald, 76), Barnes-Homer.
Wigan (4-2-3-1): Robles; Stam, Golobart, Figueroa, Mustoe; Fyvie (Jones, 53), Espinoza; Dicko (Lopez, 66), Gomez, McManaman; Henriquez.
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the match: Murtagh (Macclesfield)
Match rating: 7/10