Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 1: McCulloch punishes City's forward planning

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The Independent Online

These sides shared seven goals in a Boxing Day thriller at the JJB Stadium on Boxing Day, in the light of which the 42,000 who turned up for yesterday's re-match must have felt they had stumbled upon an antidote to excitement. Not that those from Wigan Athletic were all that bothered as Lee McCulloch celebrated the second most important moment of his week by spoiling City's preparations for tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham United.

The Wigan midfielder, who had become a father for the second time last week, headed the only goal 10 minutes into the second half. For City, who had knocked Paul Jewell's side out of the FA Cup in January, the only obvious consolation was the knowledge that for Alan Pardew's team the afternoon had gone even worse.

In some ways, City's disjointed effort to construct a winning performance was hardly surprising. Despite his earlier insistence that yesterday's match was no less important than tomorrow's, Pearce made eight changes to the side whose victory over Aston Villa had earned the right to meet West Ham.

However, he refused to accept those changes as the cause of the defeat, even though by pulling out Darius Vassell, Albert Riera, Joey Barton, Kiki Musampa and others left them clearly weakened.

"The result had more to do with the players out there than the changes I made," Pearce said. "I picked a side that was experienced enough and good enough but, unusually for us, we didn't seem to believe we could win."

To make matters worse for Pearce, Antoine Sibierski looks to be ruled out of tomorrow's starting line-up after a clattering challenge by Wigan's Paul Scharner while in-form striker, Georgios Samaras, to whom Pearce had meant to give a restful afternoon on the bench, picked up an ankle injury after replacing Sibierski. Claudio Reyna, too, is a doubt.

City toiled through a scrappy opening half, which threatened to be entertaining only when Wigan goalkeeper John Filan almost contrived a clip for "what happened next". Eager to launch a counterattack, Filan booted the ball away only for it to strike a retreating Sylvain Distin on the back of the head, rebounding in a 15-yard loop and hitting the bar. To general astonishment, the referee, Martin Atkinson, responded by penalising Distin, apparently for obstruction.

Wigan deservedly took the lead following another comedy moment. David James sliced not one but two attempts to clear a back-pass, the second time at the expense of a corner. The England goalkeeper grinned sheepishly but looked less amused when McCulloch found a space between Distin and Samaras to head Jimmy Bullard's corner powerfully home.

A late save by Filan from Trevor Sinclair made sure of Wigan's success, encouraging them to contemplate a renewed challenge for a Uefa Cup place to cap their remarkable first season in the Premiership.

"It has been a great season but we want to finish it well," Jewell said. "If anything we could have won by a bigger margin but I'm pleased to come away with a clean sheet. City might have had one eye on the Cup but it was still a quality team."

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