How Wigan Athletic have helped to rekindle the magic of the FA Cup
FA Cup shocks don’t come much bigger than Wigan Athletic’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City.
The League One club produced a sensational performance to knock out the Premier League champions-elect, whose hopes of winning an unprecedented Quadruple were left in tatters.
Will Grigg was the unexpected hero for the hosts, as his 79th-minute strike sent the 2013 winners into the quarter-finals and the club’s supporters into dreamland.
Wigan’s adventure has been beset with obstacles.
But, one by one, these have been overcome and a trip to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final is now a realistic proposition.
City are the third successive top-flight team to have been eliminated by the Latics, following Bournemouth and West Ham United who exited in rounds three and four, respectively.
Now, it is struggling Southampton that stand between Paul Cook’s men and the last four.
Arguably, City are the form team in Europe and one of the favourites to lift the Champions League.
But when it comes to the FA Cup, the form-book goes out of the window.
Despite being the runaway Premier League leaders, City succumbed to only their third defeat in all competitions this season.
Although the inevitable DW Stadium pitch invasion that greeted the final whistle sparked some unsavoury scenes, the result will be remembered as one of the greatest ever upsets.
There has been much talk about how the FA Cup has become devalued in recent years.
On top of an evening kick-off for the final, many clubs – not exclusive to the Premier League – field weakened teams and view the competition as an unwelcome distraction.
This has led to some pundits calling for it to be refreshed. Potential ideas include the scrapping of replays.
However, a by-product of big clubs treating the competition with disrespect is that the number of upsets has increased.
It’s not just Wigan who have sprung a surprise or two this season.
Coventry City belied their League Two status to dump out Stoke City in round three, while Newport County of the fourth division took Tottenham Hotspur to a money-spinning replay at Wembley Stadium.
League One’s Rochdale have done likewise in the fifth round, thanks to a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at Spotland.
Despite what television companies might think, there is little appetite for watching two Premier League teams playing each other in the FA Cup.
Football enthusiasts want a chance to see the underdog have its day.
Wigan’s story has captured the imagination of supporters of all clubs, up and down the land.
Their stunning victory over a City side that, although not at full strength was nonetheless full of internationals, reinforced the legend of the FA Cup.
The romanticism of the competition has been rekindled this season, something for which Wigan deserve enormous credit.
Another factor is at play, though.
It may sound like a paradox, but if the FA Cup is to remain relevant then it needs the elite clubs to continue to treat it as an afterthought.
That way, shocks like Wigan’s will be repeated in seasons to come and interest in the world’s oldest domestic cup competition will remain high.
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