Not the finest performance, but a win’s a win. Much like the first team’s bitty, but ultimately successful endeavours against Sunderland, the u18s did just about enough to ensure a safe passage into the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals. Wigan made them work for it, without a doubt. The category 3 academy side were in the fifth round for the first time and they put in an underdog’s performance – stoic, battling and admirable, but it wasn’t enough as City’s class eventually told. The first half was a forgettable affair. Wigan ran with purpose, though City controlled the ball for large parts of the half, and as a result little of note happened. Patching clipped a lovely free-kick just wide, Nmecha went close with a lobbed effort that didn’t quite have the legs to cross line and Wigan had a few half decent moments, but the score ended 0-0 after an icy cold first forty-five. The second half initially saw a similar pattern until against the run of territorial play, Wigan took the lead. It was a soft, soft goal too. Their forward firstly bundled past Tosin Adarabioyo, then ran through Sarmiento before firing a shot right past Daniel Grimshaw in goal. It was a weak goal to concede, and it drew a frustrated reaction from those on the bench, but thankfully it prompted a reaction.
City came alive, with Isaac Buckley, a second half sub for Aaron Nemane, the catalyst. The winger was electric, and he caused Wigan all manner of problems with his frighteningly tricky and direct style. The equaliser came via Will Patching, and it was a beauty. After Davenport had been brought down on the edge of the area, Patching stepped up and placed a delightful 25 yarder in the top right hand corner with the keeper rooted. It could have been more. Nmecha and Brahim sparked into life, the pair linking excellently as City’s confidence rose. Brahim jinked past one and had his shot saved, Nmecha skipped glided past three in the area superbly before seeing a shot deflected wide, and Buckley thundered an effort off the cross bar from an impossibly tight angle. The best chance fell to Brahim though – he somehow missed from barely three yards, scuffing wide with the goal gaping after Buckley had got to the byline and cut the ball back perfectly. Wigan nearly grabbed a winner in normal time with the last touch of the game, a header from a deep cross luckily landing in Grimshaw’s hands. It went to extra-time where City dominated, despite Wigan’s impressive commitment. Buckley missed a golden chance before a smart pass from Brahim found Nmecha. The forward rounded the keeper but was brought down and the referee pointed to the spot. He stepped up an scored for the sixth game in a row.
After that it always looked likely that a third would come, with Wigan dead on their feet, yet in desperate need of an equaliser. It was no surprise then that Buckley grabbed the goal that he had threatened to get from the moment he stepped on the pitch. He played a majestic one-two with Nmecha, collected a brilliantly improvised back-hell from his strike partner and slotted past the keeper. There was no way back for the Latics and City saw the clock out to secure a home tie versus Norwich in the quarters. Job done. Buckley was the star, despite not being introduced until the hour mark. Nemane had had a relatively quiet game, one great ball for Nmecha aside, and the young Mancunian was a delight when he came on in his place. Sprightly, confident, full of skill and with genuinely searing pace, he gave Wigan a torrid time. He’s come on leaps and bounds since the first time I saw him a year ago. He’s remarkably composed when compared to the exciting, but raw, talent he was last year and its been fascinating to witness. Davenport was the pick of the midfield three. Tenacious, intelligent and a real fighter in the middle of the park. The first year scholar is having a great year in the 18s and he showed a fair bit of attacking nous too, picking out some lovely passes. Brahim had a mixed game. He was anonymous initially, though he wasn’t helped by being positioned as the centre-forward at kick-off. He was then moved to the left, and later over to the right, but he didn’t really click until late into the second half. When he did he was good, as darty and as dangerous as ever, yet his final decision let him down.
Nmecha, like most of the team, grew into the game. Towards the end, with his confidence up, he was a real handful. His flick for Buckley’s goal was genuinely top class. He got his customary goal too and he held the ball up well as Wigan players bounced off him. Patching scored a beauty and nearly had another. He prompted and probed well, but it was a difficult night for the creative players against a fired up Wigan side. Kongolo had a relatively poor game compared to his recent standards. He wasn’t the powerful presence he’d been of late, and defensively we were suspect. Sarmiento, for all his talents, had a quieter game than recent weeks and was culpable for their goal, and Duhaney couldn’t get forward with his usual zest either. Humphreys and Adarabioyo were a tad disappointing, given their ability at least. The goal was avoidable, and they’ll know it. Grimshaw wouldn’t have been too happy with his part in it either. He wasn’t really to blame, but it was a little soft perhaps. Overall, it wasn’t a vintage performance from City, but it was an important one that was surely a valuable learning experience. The DW stadium was by no means packed, but there was a healthy crowd there, all loud, vocal and supportive of the home team. There was an intensity to the game as tempers flared, with the crowd jeering Tosin Adarabioyo after a few clashes. This would have been a new experience for most, and that’s something that you can only experience in stadiums like this. That pressure is vital, and it will only help to further their development, and it surely will have. Next up, the u18s derby at United on Thursday.