If there is any justice left in this world - and Andy Cole's late winner signified there just might be - Manchester City will be granted a favourable draw in the fifth round this lunchtime and so carry on giving the FA Cup the attention it deserves. For next to some of the cynical old dogs of the Premiership, their devotion is almost puppy-like.
Take Wigan Athletic, newly of the élite, newly of the coldly calculating. They were heart-warming in their desire in the Carling Cup at Highbury on Tuesday, but their indifference chilled the soul at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday. Sure, tired legs dictated Paul Jewell chucking in a suicide XI, but to see just how far they have come, and indeed how far the Cup has fallen, one needed only to listen to Mike Summerbee, the Seventies City legend.
"We played them at Maine Road in the third round way back in 1971 when they were a non-League club," said the striker they called Buzzer. "They murdered us but we scraped through 1-0. It's fair to say we underestimated them."
While the result was the same 35 years later, Wigan were not up to murdering anybody. Had City ripped in with the bloodlust that usually characterises Stuart Pearce's men at home, Wigan's reserves would undoubtedly have been exposed and Jewell would not have had such an uncomfortable time worrying about a replay he wanted at no cost. When a manager says, "It's probably a good thing we never got a goal in the end," you can tell the Cup is in trouble, not to mention that the Football Association's policy of fining the under-strength has long since been forgotten.
If only the memories of this awful affair were so easily consigned. With City tentative, the game petered from flat to subterranean until Jewell could resist no longer. Jason Roberts, Jimmy Bullard and Stephane Henchoz ran on, possessed by the Cup spirit. Had the former found a way past the inspired save of David James with 15 minutes left, and had Damien Francis not found crossbar on the rebound when net was everywhere in front of him, Wigan might have added another distraction to next month's Carling final.
As it was, Cole's link on to Bradley Wright-Phillips' neat put-through meant smiles all round.
"Give our fans credit, because when supporters up and down the country are not turning up for FA Cup ties, our lot still do so in numbers," said Pearce, who was also cheered by finally landing the Greek striker Georgios Samaras as a £6m replacement for Robbie Fowler. "Depending who we get next, they will start to think this could be our year and that, yes, our name is on the Cup."
It was joyous to hear the clichés of yesteryear. When the Cup was everything and Wigan's second team were never so honoured.
Goal: Cole (84) 1-0.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Jihai, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Sinclair, Barton, Ireland (Sibierski, 82), Riera (Musampa, 69); Cole, Vassell (Wright-Phillips, 59). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Richards.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Jackson, Scharner, Baines; Ziegler, Francis, Skoko (Henchoz, 70), Mahon (Bullard, 65); Johansson, Mellor (Roberts, 59). Substitutes not used: Kavanagh, Pollitt (gk).
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Cole.
Attendance: 30,811.Reuse content