WIGAN ATHLETIC vs MANCHESTER CITY
On Saturday, May 15th 1999, Wigan Athletic entertained Manchester City at Springfield Park- in the first leg of a Division Two playoff. 6,762 fans attended the game and City just about scraped through.
Fast forward ten years.
For Wigan- Out with Springfield Park, in with the JJB. Out with the JJB, in with the DW. In with a quadrupled average attendance in that timeframe. In with the Premier League, never to look back.
For City- Out with Maine Road, in with Eastlands. Out with Joe Royle, Kevin Keegan, David Bernstein, Stuart Pearce, John Wardle, Sven Goran Eriksson and Thaksin Shinawatra. In with riches beyond any club’s wildest dreams.
Dramatic transitions don’t come any better than with these two. The home side, quite literally a nothing club 30 years ago- nonexistent 80- find themselves dining at the top table since August 2005. Written off by all and sundry, the Latics, under the stewardship of an embattled Paul Jewell and the close eye of an infamously ruthless Chairman Dave Whelan, pulled off the unthinkable in not only surviving, but threatening for a European place in their debut year. If an eventual 10th place finish wasn’t enough, they even managed a League Cup final appearance against a certain team in Red. The result may have gone against them, but lining up at the Millenium Stadium against one of the biggest sides in the World encapsulated perfectly how far this once miniscule club had come.
Consolidation, though, was the biggest challenge. Jewell pulled it off, ensuring survival on the final day of Wigan’s second season in the top flight. From then it’s been an uninspiring couple of years of mediocrity; midtable finishes and the odd scalp against a big gun. And long may it last, Whelan must say to himself.
By the time Wigan had become a member of the Football League in 1978, City had won 2 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup. They’d been a major player in English football for just about a lifetime. Typical of football then that the two should meet in a competitive encounter twenty years on. The significance of City’s win, though, was enormous. Here was a former King going into battle with a peasant. Who had the most to lose?
So while City made their eventual recovery, the young pretenders 25 miles away climbed and climbed, huffed and puffed until once again they found themselves in battle. The circumstances, the arena, the glamour- a great deal more sophisticated now though.
The odd scalp was alluded to earlier and this is something Wigan love nothing more than against City. In 8 Premier League meetings thus far, the Latics remarkably have five wins to their name. Lest we not forget, amid the riches of this new era, a certain 4-0 demolition at the JJB on October 21st 2006. What might feel like a million was in fact three years ago. Stuart Perce. Beanie. Reyna and Barton in midfield. Otherwise, it’s been two draws, both in 2007/8, and City’s first Premier League win over Wigan was incidentally the last game played between the two- a wonder goal from Pablo Zabaleta sealing the points.
Despite City’s poor record against the Latics, the bookmakers see only one winner with a home win priced at 4/1. This really should come as no surprise- the past has been and gone and now the two sides are worlds apart. So far this season, with a game in hand on Wigan, City have almost double the points (15 to 9) and interestingly the goals columns are exact opposites for the two teams with City scoring 15 and conceding 8, with Wigan scoring 8 and conceding 15.
Remarkably, there are no injuries to report for Wigan- a completely clean bill of health for the squad, so manager Roberto Martinez will have the luxury of fielding whichever side he feels is his strongest. Expect in form Hugo Rodaellga to start- and cause problems- while the often slated Titus Bramble is arguably playing the football of his career. In the middle, there is a real lack of quality and influence with new recruits still finding their feet in England.
Pablo Zabaleta is likely to be passed fit for the game and with no fresh injury concerns, City will bring a strong squad to the DW Stadium. Robinho is a definite absentee while Vincent Kompany is in line to make a comeback, in all likelihood from the bench. Nigel de Jong sustained an injury at Aston Villa but is likely to feature.
Wigan are capable of causing upsets and have previous for it, as indicated by their 3-1 win over Chelsea less than three weeks ago. However a distinct lack of quality should show itself up eventually on Sunday. City are so powerful and so experienced in every area of the field that I see this as a scalp too far. Let’s hope so!
PREDICTION- Wigan 0-2 City
A big thank you to “Colin The King” from www.mancityfans.net for this excellent match preview.