Wigan Athletic defied the odds once more with a remarkable victory at the Etihad. They now face Arsenal in the semi-final at Wembley. The dream simply refuses to die.
Latics went into the game on the top of a run of good results, but were facing a side that had won 12 of its 13 home games in the Premier League and had already beaten them 5-0 in the League Cup. However, Uwe Rosler’s team were by no means overawed by their star-studded opponents and played with great spirit and organization and with no mean level of skill.
As expected Rosler fielded three central defenders, pushing back Chris McCann to the left side, with Emmerson Boyce on the right and Ivan Ramis in the centre. Scott Carson made a return in goal and Josh McEachran took over the Ben Watson role in midfield. Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman played upfront with Jordi Gomez playing behind them in a forward midfield role.
Latics had started brightly, showing no fear, taking the game to the home team. In the 27th minute Marc-Antoine Fortune turned past Martin Dimichaelis near the byline for the Argentinian to make a clumsy challenge within the penalty box. Jordi Gomez was coolness personified as he slotted home the penalty. Latics continued to play the better football and City had not tested Carson as the half time whistle sounded. Latics high pressing tactic had stemmed the flow of City moves and they deservedly went in ahead.
The second half saw a change for Latics with Leon Barnett coming on for Chris McCann. The Irishman had been outstanding, solid in defence, building up play from the back via his cultured left foot. He had been injured in the 40th minute following a powerhouse tackle on Micah Richards.
The question was whether Latics would have the energy to continue to operate their high pressing game, boldly leaving two players up front even when under pressure.
Incredibly Latics went 2-0 up just two minutes into the second half. Lethargic defence by the home team saw James McArthur receive the ball outside the penalty area. The Scot ran through the defence before putting in a superb low cross from the left. It looked like Gael Clichy was going to clear it, but somehow James Perch got a foot to it between the Frenchman’s legs to put the ball in the net.
Manuel Pellegrini took a calculated risk after 53 minutes, using his substitute allotment by bringing on James Milner, David Silva and Edin Dzeko. Soon after Dzeko was unlucky to head against the post and Latics were on the back foot. City scored a controversial goal after 68 minutes when Samir Nasri shot from outside the box with Joleon Lescott trying to connect, but the ball passing between his legs to beat Carson.
Latics had brought on James McClean for McManaman after 58 minutes and Roger Espinoza for McEachran after 66 minutes. Following their goal City continued to bombard the Wigan defence, but somehow it held firm. Boyce made an amazing block to prevent Dzeko from scoring, but it was not to be City’s day. A breakaway saw Fortune wastefully blazing the ball over the bar from distance when a simple pass would have seen McClean put through on a direct route to goal.
Sheer resilience saw Latics through five minutes of added time to gain a win that was richly deserved.
Uwe Rosler had clearly done his homework and his tactics were spot-on. In the first half the three central defenders passed the ball out of defence with composure and snuffed out the danger of strikers Aguero and Negredo. The combination of McCann and Crainey proved too much for the flying winger Navas, who was taken off after 53 minutes. Crainey was to have his best game yet in a Latics shirt in the left wing back position. At right wing back, James Perch was as solid as ever and capped his display with an opportunist goal. It is an indication of the type of attacking approach that Rosler encourages when a wing back gets into that kind of scoring position.
Boyce gave an inspirational display. His performance in the FA Cup Final was huge, but this one might have been even better. He forms a fine partnership with the intelligent Ramis. Barnett once again gave his all for the cause.
McArthur was his usual tireless self in midfield and made an assist for the second goal. Apart from one sloppy pass that put his defence in danger McEachran played his part until going off after 66 minutes. Gomez played well, linking up the play in the first half, putting in a lot of hard graft. Who else do Latics have who could take a penalty with such aplomb, despite the huge pressure?
Fortune gave Dimichaelis a match to forget, playing the target man role. City had clearly recognized McManaman as a danger man and although he came in for rough treatment, he made a valuable contribution.
One wonders what might have happened had the referee, Antony Taylor, correctly disallowed City’s goal for offside. As one might expect City did have some shouts for penalties but Taylor rightly ignored them.
Scott Carson: 7 – a welcome return from the excellent ‘keeper. Did all that could be expected of him.
Emmerson Boyce: 9.5 – has he ever played a better game for Latics? Superb.
Ivan Ramis: 8 – another fine defensive performance from a quality central defender. His anticipation is a real advantage to his team mates.
Chris McCann: 8 – excellent. Let’s hope the injury is not serious. He has become a key player for Latics.
James Perch: 8 – excellent in defence and we will remember his goal for years to come.
Stephen Crainey: 8 – it has taken the Scot some time to adjust to the quality passing game that Latics favour. Today he was solid in defence and his use of the ball good.
James McArthur: 8- a midfield dynamo.
Josh McEachran: 7 – still lacking match fitness, but could become a key player over the coming weeks.
Jordi Gomez: 8 – a tireless display, capped by his goal.
Callum McManaman: 7.5 – looked useful.
Marc-Antoine Fortune: 8 – a fine performance as the central striker.
Leon Barnett:- came on after half time. Solid and committed.
James McClean: – high on endeavour, but his control lets him down when switching over to the right.
Roger Espinoza: – tried hard to stem the tide of City attacks.