Saturday, 6 February 2016

Wigan Athletic vs. Man City: In The FA (Youth) Cup

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City has always thrown up an interesting game; the FA Cup 3rd round in 1971, the play-offs in 1999, the 4-3 on Boxing Day 2005 and of course, the FA Cup final in 2013. This trend continued on a cold February night in 2016 – this time in the 5th round of the FA Youth Cup. This was the first time that Latics had been at this stage of the competition and a tie against a club with probably the most ambitious youth set-up in the world, was always going to be difficult. Latics lost 3-1, but only after extra-time (which turned out to be extra-extra time) and overall was a good nights entertainment on a cold Tuesday, well worth the five pound entrance fee.

Making my way into the West Stand just before kick-off, I notice the centre of the stand is fairly packed, so elect to take a seat just off-centre. Being the polite gentleman I am, I make sure not to sit in the way of two men on the row behind me. It turns out these chaps were City supporters (there were quite the number there) and they seemed to be regulars at City's youth games. A few minutes into the match though, I regret sitting there because all they did was moan! Moan, moan, moan, moan. Moaned at anything; their team, our team, the weather, the pitch, the fact there’s gaps in between the stand that let the wind in. No wonder City squads of the past are known for regularly messing things up if they have to deal with this type of negativity every week. Then again, I can’t talk being a Latics supporter!

To be fair to City though, it was great to see so many of their supporters interested in their youth team (on a night when the first team were in Premier League action at Sunderland), in an era when it’s becoming increasingly expensive to watch first team games, I can see the bigger clubs having quite the crowds at youth/development squad games, something which I hope clubs promote further; playing in front of bigger crowds will only help these young players to experience what it might be like playing in a first team environment. And the endless moaning makes the scenario even more realistic. Currently, the Latics youth games are played in the midweek, in the mornings, which is never going to attract any sort of crowd.

City, with their team made up of foreign, as well as locally-based players, dominated the ball but Latics counter-attacked well; the full-backs (Baxendale and Lingard) in particular were impressive and the defending was disciplined for the most part. Latics took the lead early in the second half when Callum Lang flicked the ball over a City defender, making his way into the box and squeezing the ball under Daniel Grimshaw in the City goal, which drew a huge cheer from the majority of the 650 crowd, who had been increasingly drawn into this game through its intense nature. City equalised through a Will Patching free-kick before that intense nature boiled over, as both sides got into quite the scuffle when City give away a free-kick in the last minute on the right touchline. Once things had calmed down, the free-kick was beautifully taken by Lingard and Thomas Powell managed to get his head to the ball...with Ben Watson-esq headlines ready to be written...and it hit the goalkeeper. So unlucky.

Extra time it was and I couldn’t help but feel that the chance had gone. Despite some great last-ditch defending, Latics looked knackered throughout extra-time and in the 5th minute of added time in extra-time (!!!) City broke through the Latics backline which led to goalkeeper, Kelland Absalom, bringing down Lukas Nmecha for a penalty. Nmecha made it 2-1 from the spot and despite having a number of clear-cut chances in the second period (their decision-making wasn’t very good as they constantly elected to pass rather than shoot) it was only in the last minute of extra time that City wrapped it up, albeit with a finely-worked goal through Issac Buckley.

The young Latics team can take great credit from how they performed on the night, especially against Manchester City, who currently lead the top tier – Latics are in the third tier, as we strive to improve our facilities, which will enable us to move up the youth leagues. Latics are currently top of the Football League Youth Alliance (North-West) and are still in the Lancashire FA Cup, so hopefully some silverware will be on its way to the youth lads very soon!

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