Manchester City were dealt a rare glamour tie in the FA Cup round of 16, as they were drawn against League One high-flyers Wigan Athletic. It makes a change from the boring fixtures against fellow Premier League sides, however Paul Cook’s Wigan team have already defeated top-flight opposition this season in the cup, and won’t be an easy walkover.
City and Wigan have a rich history in this competition, and the most historic day of The Latics’ history came at the hands of City, as a late Ben Watson header flew past Joe Hart to carve Wigan’s name into history, a game that was ultimately City boss Roberto Mancini’s last bow in English football. That wasn’t the only time in recent history that Wigan have dealt the Blues a massive cup upset either, and travelling Blues will be hopeful to be ‘third time lucky’ on Monday.
Half a decade-plus later, Wigan find themselves in the third tier of English football, however would argue they are on the up again now. I took a look inside the opposition to give City fans an account of what to expect on Monday night…
THE TEAM AND MANAGER
Wigan go into Monday night’s clash in second place in the league, only a point behind overachievers Shrewsbury who lead the way. The Latics have a game in hand on the Shropshire club, and have two games in hand on third place Blackburn Rovers, who they are above on goal difference.
Manager Paul Cook moved to Wigan after two successful seasons with Portsmouth, who he guided to the League Two title in his final season. The Liverpool-born manager has received high praise for his promotion-elect Wigan side and is said to be relishing the chance to share the touchline with Pep Guardiola.
As for the players, Wigan have a strong core, majorly built via youthful prospects. In goal stands Brighton loanee Christian Walton, who has featured for England at youth level on a number of occasions. Brighton fans hold high hopes for Walton, and since joining Wigan has boasted a pleasing record.
The rest of the team is nicely balanced, but the names on many fans lips are those who supply the goals. With 15 goals this season, striker Will Grigg is… on fire. He has been part of many upsets in the past, and scored a couple against Manchester United in his MK Dons days.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Despite Grigg’s goal-scoring prowess, I have pinpointed Nick Powell as the man to watch. Making his name at Crewe Alexandra as a teenager, Powell was destined for the top. The Cheshire-born attacking midfielder won Crewe promotion at Wembley with a brilliant goal from the edge of the box. The following summer, he met with Sir Alec Ferguson and finalized a move to Manchester United.
Not long after, Fergie handed over the reigns at United and Powell never really got a chance in the first team under Moyes. Several career-threatening injuries and loans to teams down the football league ladder, Nick Powell is now playing his first regular week-in-week-out football for five years.
On deadline day of the window just gone, Powell rejected a £10m switch to Premier League Brighton, as he was wary of the competition he would face with the likes of Groß and Pröpper, so opted to stay at Wigan where he is a fan favourite.
Powell is still in his early twenties, and definitely has what it takes to make it as a Premier League player. He has a unique technique of being able to strike the ball from distance with his laces. Although sometimes suffering from being greedy with the ball, Powell is a good passer and can cause problems for any defence when he gets his head up.
A VIEW FROM THE OPPOSITION
I asked him about Wigan’s season so far, that day at Wembley, their key players and also in general about the game on Monday night. You can take a listen to the podcast at: https://audioboom.com/channel/pieatnight
Thoughts on Wigan’s season so far and the promotion push
Well, we sat top of the table until Tuesday when we hit our second defeat on the bounce to much gnashing of teeth and wailing on social media. Our games in hand could take us back to the top, but this small blip has served to remind us (and hopefully the team) that we’re in a three horse race and, whilst we’re rightly favourites to go up, we can’t take anything for granted.
Assuming we do go up, we should be in a better position to take on the championship than we were two years ago. That’s when most of this team came together and their lack of familiarity back then got us off to a shaky start. The year together has done them favours this season and the resulting trust and team spirit has and provided Paul Cook with a squad willing to work with his ideas.
Obviously having two or three of the best players in the division and the core of this team now are clearly capable of operating at a higher level, so providing we can keep them together and Paul Cook trusts them to do the job I can see us having a comfortable season should we get back to the championship.
Do Wigan have any players City should fear?
Given the right chances, Will Grigg will put them away. He’s hit a fine run of form recently but that’s as much to do with the freedom the rest of the team have had to play than it is his form. He’s not the sort of forward that fashions his own chances so if you win the midfield battle then you’ll probably be safe.
Although I doubt Pep will be too worried on either count.
What about Nick Powell?
Although having had it on good authority that those deadline day rumours were true, I still find them hard to believe. Only because the sort of numbers involved must have been so hard for a League One club to ignore, I never really thought that Powell was looking for a move.
Nick is clearly an excellent footballer. There have been times this season where he’s looked like a dad playing football at his son’s eighth birthday party and for me he’s head and shoulders the best in League One this season. Injuries aside, I think he could also have been the best in the Championship last year too, and I’m hoping I get to see that theory tested next season too.
As well as injury problems, the other barrier to Nick Powell becoming a top Premier League player is… Nick Powell. The theory is that his experiences at Man United have soured him to playing at that level, and only time will tell whether time heals those wounds. In the meantime, he seems happy at Wigan and long may it continue.
Memories of Wigan’s FA Cup final win over City
You might have seen David Moyes’ comments before the last round, saying that Latics fans would swap that FA Cup win to still be in the Premier League – he couldn’t be more wrong. Football is about winning things, not making up the numbers so that the top four or five teams have a league schedule.
It’s really hard to explain how big that day was for the club, even just being there was an achievement but then to win, in the way that we did… well, the thought still sends shivers down my spine.
Predictions for Monday’s game
So my brain answers that question like this… we had no chance anyway, but with our players looking knackered and Sam Morsy being suspended and us being in a bad run of form, we’re going to get stuffed. We’re a League One side, City are the best team in the country and well, what do you expect to happen in those circumstances?
But then my heart gets involved and reminds me, not of the cup final, but of the quarter-final the year after, and that moment when Jordi Gomez stepped up to stroke home a penalty following Demichelis’ mistake. Anything can happen in a football match and they do say that these things come in threes.
Then my stomach chips in with a reminder that you probably still owe us for that Shaun Goater handball, so yeah, why shouldn’t we win?*
*we won’t, you’ll get three in the first half-hour and then take your foot off the gas for the rest of the game.