Two seasons ago the FA Cup sprung one of the best moments in the history of Wigan Athletic Football Club when the Latics stunned Manchester City at Wembley courtesy of Ben Watson’s memorable, last-gasp goal to lift the famous trophy for the very first time. Despite the disappointment of Premier League relegation that season, it gave our fans something to be proud about.
Nobody gave Wigan a hope against a City side which was loaded with multi-million pound stars, such as Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. However, the FA Cup really did live up to its name as being the competition which produces big upsets every year.
Looking back at that game, it was probably the biggest surprise in the final itself since Everton beat Manchester United to get their hands on the trophy in 1995. Going further back, the result ranks up there with Wimbledon’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool in 1988, when the Crazy Gang got the better of the Merseyside club who were dominating English football in the ’80s.
2013/14 FA Cup defence
A lot of people expected the defence of the cup last season to end very prematurely. However, the magic of the competition ensured we made it all the way through to semi-final once again, with victories over Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Cardiff along the way. Unfortunately, Arsenal denied us a place in the final but it was another great day for Latics fans as we took the Gunners to penalties. The game could have gone either way at that point but sadly the North London club dispatched their spot-kicks better and eventually went on to win the competition with victory over Hull in the final.
The highlight of the 2013/14 campaign was definitely the victory over City at the Etihad Stadium. In many respects, that was an even bigger upset than the 2013 cup final itself as it was at their own ground so they were massive odds-on shots to get through on the day with betfair. The FA Cup final would have been fresh in their minds, too, so you would not have expected them to underestimate us this time around. However, goals from Jordi Gomez and James Perch helped us book a spot at Wembley once again for the semi-finals with a 2-1 score line in the sixth round.
To expect a run into the latter stages of the tournament for a third consecutive year may be too much to ask but if the players can buy into how special the FA Cup has been to the club, they may just be able to surprise once again.
An away trip to the Macron Stadium to face North West rivals Bolton was not an ideal draw in the third round. Neil Lennon’s side have improved massively since the former Celtic manager took over. As always in the FA Cup, the ideal scenario would be a home tie against a club lower than ourselves in the football pyramid, while a home draw against anyone is always second best. However, things could have been a lot worse if the Latics would have drawn a Premier League club on the road.
There were several non-league clubs left in the draw, which took place last Monday evening with Blyth Spartans being the lowest ranked side in the hat. The highlight from it was a repeat of the 2014 FA Cup final as Arsenal pulled out Hull in the very first game from the draw.
Bolton in good form
The Wanderers have not been beaten in the league since 31st October, when Norwich defeated them 2-1 at Carrow Road. They were comfortable winners against us at their place in early November with a 3-1 scoreline, so that is something which is going to have to be reversed if we are to get through.
Bolton have also notched up notable wins over Cardiff and Huddersfield, while they came away from Reading with a point last weekend in a goalless draw against a decent side.
There are some positives from drawing Bolton, though, as it is a local derby. There should also be a decent crowd made up of both sets of supporters, ensuring a good atmosphere for the game. Derbies always tend to be tight and the form book usually goes out of the window so hopefully we can get the win or at worst a draw which would ensure a replay at the DW Stadium.
How far can the Latics go this season?
Looking beyond the third round, how far can Wigan go this season in the FA Cup? It would be difficult to predict progression into the latter stages. Due to our disappointing league form, which leaves us inside the relegation zone around mid-December. The priority has to be the Championship campaign, at least until we can move up the table and away from the relegation zone. Just three wins from 20 games is a poor return and leaves us worrying about our future in the league.
The last time we picked up all three points was following a 2-1 win on the road at Derby. Since then, defeats have come against Brighton, Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday and the latest last Saturday in a 1-0 loss at home to Norwich.
It is going to be a dilemma for new boss Malky Mackay, who has now been in charge for almost a month, to have to think about if we do get past Bolton. The FA Cup is a great chance to generate some extra revenue which can be used to improve the squad in January or during the summer transfer window. Therefore, does Mackay go full out to progress as far as he can, even if it does mean more strain on his squad during January or beyond, or is it an opportunity for some of the fringe players to get some game time?
Either way, all focus for now remains on improving our position in the Championship. When the Bolton game does arrive, I am sure Mackay will field an XI which he feels is good enough to win the game on the day.