Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 1: Pearce refuses to hide behind tough schedule

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The Independent Football

So far, Stuart Pearce seems determined that an important element of his ethos as a football manager should be that when things go wrong he will never seek to hide failure behind an excuse. It is an admirable position. People like him for it, and not just Manchester City fans.

But there are times when grumbling is OK and had Pearce echoed the words of Alan Pardew on the subject of having to play a Premiership match and an FA Cup quarter-final with barely 48 hours in between then few would have thought any the less of him.

Pardew, whose West Ham side meet Pearce's City in Manchester this evening, says that the schedule imposed on their teams - and on Liverpool, who faced Newcastle yesterday and must play their quarter-final in Birmingham tomorrow - is "too demanding." Each paid a price in League points on Saturday, resting key players and losing their matches, their chances of qualifying for the Uefa Cup via the Premiership table undeniably receding as a consequence. Yet Pearce steadfastly refused to complain, even after Georgios Samaras, Claudio Reyna and Antoine Sibierski suffered injuries that make them doubtful for tonight's tie.

"We have to contend with injuries and limited preparation time and you could make a million and one excuses but that is not the business I am in," Pearce said. "The business I am in is preparing a team for every game whether it is in one or two days or seven days. As long as it is reasonably fair across the board, which in this case it is, then I'm quite happy." It was "fair", he reasoned, because West Ham had the same schedule. He even argued - bless him - that having had one more day than their opponents to recover from last week's fifth-round replays, City were actually at an advantage. "So we are in the driving seat," he said.

Pearce left out eight of those who had beaten Aston Villa last Tuesday, defending his changes on the basis that he had picked an XI "good enough to win the game". But Richard Dunne, Stephen Jordan, Joey Barton, Kiki Musampa, Albert Riera and Darius Vassell all look certain to return tonight, as would Samaras if Pearce's plans for him had not gone horribly wrong.

The Greek, who played only 45 minutes against Villa because of an ankle injury, was meant to spend a largely restful Saturday warming the substitutes' bench after three goals in four matches, but had to replace a stricken Sibierski after 27 minutes and turned his ankle again after an hour. Sibierski has a "dead" leg, which may leave Bradley Wright-Phillips - for whom this was a first Premiership start - as the only option to partner Vassell, with Andy Cole still ruled out.

Wigan were the clear beneficiaries. Lee McCulloch (below) headed the game's only goal on the end of an inswinging corner from the ever-industrious Jimmy Bullard, and two wins in a row encourages the manager, Paul Jewell, to believe that a season that had threatened to fizzle out might now regain some momentum. Jewell sees Europe as "a possibility" but is more concerned with longer-term plans.

"This season has raised the club's profile massively but next season will be harder for us," he said. "We will have moved on from the fairy-tale, expectancy will be raised so we will have to work even harder to get better players to improve on what we have achieved so far, which is why it is important to finish this season well."

Goal: McCulloch (55) 1-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; D Mills, Sommeil, Distin, Thatcher; Sinclair, Ireland, Reyna (Croft, 66), Sun Jihai; Sibierski (Samaras, 27; Miller, 61), Wright-Phillips. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Richards.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Scharner, De Zeeuw, Baines; Teale, Bullard, Kavanagh, McCulloch; Camara (Johansson, 85), Roberts. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Jackson, Mahon, Ziegler.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Bookings: Manchester City Wright-Phillips, Mills.

Man of the match: Bullard.

Attendance: 42,444.

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