In many respects, none of them desirable in any way whatsoever, it was perhaps appropriate that the greatest achievement so far in the history of Wigan Athletic Football Club should have been knocked off the back pages of the weekend’s papers by excesses of a few drunken Millwall supporters harbouring some sort of perceived slight and a Newcastle United supporter attempting to headbutt a police horse. After all, Wigan Athletic is something approaching the Premier League’s forgotten football club, the one whose most notable contribution to the Premier League is to act as cannon fodder for those who believe that the size of a club’s support is something for which those that do attend their matches should be ridiculed.
On Saturday evening, however, manager Roberto Martinez and his team achieved something quite remarkable in playing their way to their first FA Cup final. Elected into the Football League in 1977, Wigan Athletic are now the first club to have reached the finals of both the FA Trophy – they were beaten by Scarborough in the 1973 final, a result which feels like light years ago now – and the FA Cup, and all of this has been achieved while putting together a run of form which has given the club a fighting chance of avoiding relegation from the Premier League at the end of this season. Against Millwall on Saturday, they were fluid and composed, demonstrating many of the attractive traits that Martinez has instilled in his players since arriving at the club from Swansea City in 2009, and although avoiding the drop at the end of this season will doubtlessly remain his main aim for the remainder of the season, perhaps the end of this season is an appropriate time for supporters of the club to be celebrating their eight years in the Premier League, whether they are still members of it by that time or not.
As Wembley tidied up after Saturday evening’s match, the hubris bus was rolling into town. Manchester City’s confidence ahead of their semi-final match against Manchester City had been been given a leg up earlier in the week with a win at Old Trafford in the Premier League, and this confidence is unlucky to feel diminished this evening after a win against Chelsea by two goals to one which ensured their second appearance in three years in the final of the world’s oldest cup competition, even if the edge might have been taken off their celebrations by the news that Manchester United had re-opened the gap between the two clubs at the top of the Premier League to fifteen points after a thoroughly predictable two-nil win at Stoke City, who are looking more and more like relegation fodder with each passing week. Chelsea, meanwhile, can concentrate on retaining their place at the Champions League trough and on the possibility of winning the Europa League now. Their supporters might have taken heart from the the fact that at least losing to Manchester City gave them something else to boo Rafael Benitez for.
In the Premier League on Saturday afternoon, meanwhile, there was largely tumbleweed. There was actual silence, a minute’s worth, at The Madejski Stadium prior to the match between Reading and Liverpool, though this was to mark the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster rather than the death of Margaret Thatcher, as the Reading chairman John Madejski had absent-mindedly mentioned during the week. With Justice For The 96 flags flying in the air, the crowd fell silent for sixty seconds to remember the dead impeccably before another impeccable performance, from the Reading reserve goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, which kept the score goalless and shunted Reading a little closer to relegation being an actual certainty rather than an all-bar-mathematical certainty, which it certainly is at the moment. Elsewhere, Chelsea and Arsenal are going to finish in third and fourth place in the Premier League, Queens Park Rangers are no better off than Reading (both are now ten points adrift with five matches left to play), Aston Villa, Fulham, Southampton and West Ham United all drew.
Then, on Sunday afternoon, Paolo Di Canio beat Newcastle United by three goals to nil at St James Park. Now, I have to be honest here and say that I haven’t seen any of this particular match (I was eating chocolate, watching documentaries about the Cold War and fussing my cat, if you must know), so I can only take what I’ve picked up from the press, which seems to be that none of Sunderland’s actual players were in any way involved in this achievement, from which I can only assume that Ellis Short cloned Di Canio eleven times, played these eleven clones and that it was they that did all the hard work while the another Di Canio stood on the touchline, shrieking, waving his arms about and, quite possibly, wearing a v-neck jumper, while the Sunderland players were bound, gagged and left in the away team changing room to think about what the’ve done over the last few months or so.
Anyway, Sunderland probably aren’t going to get relegated any more – which is news to those of us that have been told for the last couple of weeks or so that they definitely were – and Newcastle United probably aren’t either, all of which makes that man trying to headbutt a police horse thing seem quite odd, really. Oh, and Paolo Di Canio isn’t a fascist (it’s difficult to know whether we should be putting the words “any more” in here or not) because he told us so and because Sunderland really don’t want to get relegated at the end of this season. Or something. So, all’s well that ends well, then.
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