Tag Archives: Wigan

League Cup miracle, one year on: Wigan Athletic

30 Oct

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Width of a Post continues its look back on last season’s incredible League Cup run, as Jason McKeown reflects on the shock victory over Wigan, which occurred a year ago today.

Wigan Athletic 0 Bradford City 0 (Bradford City win 4-2 on penalties)

The impending bleakness of winter sharply falls into focus at this time of the year. The clocks have gone back, which suddenly means that, come 5pm, it is already pitch-black outside. For those of us who have 9-5 jobs, the psychological effect of this sudden jump to darkness can leave you feeling miserable. As you leave the office, it already seems as though the day is long over.

Tonight at 6pm, I am fighting through the dark and the M6 traffic to get to Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium, having finished work early to make it in good time. The ground’s floodlights shine brightly to act as a homing beacon, and after getting past numerous traffic light junctions we find ourselves in a retail park with the stadium a centre piece, immediately surrounded by a raft of mini car parks that are numbered for who is allowed to use them. The visiting supporters’ parking section looks difficult to get out of and the fee to park leaves you gasping for breath in shock. There is no prospect of street parking, so the three of us reluctantly split the cost. Welcome to the Premier League.

The set up around the ground seems impressive, but in the blackness of 6pm it’s difficult to locate anything useful like somewhere to eat and a place to drink. We wander around aimlessly looking for any building with lights on, finding only a giant supermarket that is scarily busy with Wigan folk doing the big shop. We seem to walk around for an hour with no luck in finding anything of use; just a giant fish and chip place with long queues. Reluctantly, we give up and go inside the ground extra early for food and beer.

That we are here tonight at all has become something to savour following initial groans. The fourth round reward for getting past Notts County, Watford and Burton had not been an exciting trip to Old Trafford or the Etihad, but the relatively unglamorous, I-don’t-get-how-they-stay-up-every-season, Wigan Athletic. We’ll lose for sure, in an empty stadium, to a group of players who are hardly the household names a more favourable draw could have seen us pitted against. But hey, it’s only an hour’s drive away. So obviously we will go.

A remarkably sensible ticket pricing policy – just £10 to get in – encourages many others too. Conversations with different City friends confirm that almost everyone you know, of a claret and amber persuasion, is going. It’s soon announced that City’s initial allocation has been snapped up; and shortly afterwards the extra tickets have all gone too. A 5,000 away sell out that will guarantee a raucous atmosphere if nothing else.

Having gotten over the disappointment of a seemingly poor cup draw, there’s a growing sense of excitement in the build-up to the game. Three days earlier we were in league action at Burton – the side we beat to make the fourth round – and taunted the home fans about how we were going to Wigan and they were not. Possibly the only occasion in the history of football that a group of supporters have bragged about playing Wigan Athletic.

Which is not to be disparaging of the Latics. Their rise up the leagues and eight years of Premier League participation are an inspiration to clubs like ourselves. True, their incredible adventure had been funded by the millionaire Dave Whelan; but in the top flight that have retained a sensible policy of bringing in young players who can eventually be sold for a profit, while in the meantime benefiting from their services. And under Roberto Martinez, they play some wonderful football. Too open, perhaps, for a club who will always be battling relegation, but more preferable to the dourness of someone like Stoke. Everyone seems to look down their noses at Wigan, but they have every right to hold their heads high.

Their stadium is certainly impressive – much more so than it appears on TV. Far removed from the identi-kit grounds built over the last two decades, the steepness of the stands provides you an unexpected on-top-of-the-pitch feel, and the roof offers good acoustics that we will later exploit. Having supped food and drink on the excellent concourse, myself, Stephen and Alan make our way to our seats amongst the early arrivals, who have already begun chants that will not stop all night.

Before we can feel as excited, though, we are still digesting the shock news – revealed by a friend on the concourse – that on route to Wigan it had been announced that Luke Oliver’s season was over and that Andrew Davies would miss five months of action, after the pair were injured in that game at Burton. We already knew they were out for tonight – a fact that had increased the unlikeness of a cup exit – but to discover they would be missing in league action for so long suddenly dampened promotion expectations.

Tonight Rory McArdle – who had been playing at right back and not fully convincing – would be moved to his natural centre back position and 19-year-old Carl McHugh brought in for only his third game. What a test for them.

Early stages, it seems that the game will go true to form. Wigan start well. City can’t get hold of the ball. Pass, pass, pass. Forwards, backwards, side to side. What is in effect a reserve Wigan team look confident and there is a purpose to their play. Nine minutes in, the home fans are cheering as Wigan put the ball into the back of the net. This could be a long night.

Yet the linesman comes to City’s rescue, disallowing the goal. And as the minutes tick by with Matt Duke still to concede, the League Two side grow in stature. By the midway point of the half, the Bantams – attacking the packed out away stand – get forward on an increasingly regular basis. A patched up central midfield of Will Atkinson and Nathan Doyle – the returning Gary Jones only fit enough for the bench – impress greatly. Nahki Wells is the star of the show though. His touch, his dribbling and his on and off-the-ball running: Nahki looks every inch a higher league player.

As half time arrives you wonder why we were so pessimistic going into the match. City were the better side for the half’s final 25 minutes, and the question is raised for the first time: can we win this?

Wigan get better after the break, and it seems as though most of the game is played in City’s half. But their determination to stay true to their passing ethos means that clear cut chances are few and far between. Tonight makes men out of Darby, McArdle and McHugh – they are simply outstanding. The on-the-deck approach of Wigan suits McHugh’s style of defending and he makes countless interceptions and tackles. One of the best individual displays of the season.

After soaking up so much pressure, City suddenly break out with the impressive Zavon Hines able to run at his full back in possession. He beats his man, finds the angle a bit too narrow but nevertheless forces home keeper Al Habsi into a tip over the bar.

The atmosphere is even better than you’d imagine. The chanting never lulls, the range of songs extensive. Wigan’s most vocal lot are positioned to our left, next to us; but they don’t have the numbers to match our noise. We are, undoubtedly, that fabled 12th man and are helping our players. It feels special to be here, contributing and part of the noise. When was the last time City had such a big away following, anywhere? Off the top of my head, not since Leeds in a League Cup tie back in 1998.

The referee brings the game to a close, and we have extra time. The pattern is similar in City retaining their shape and discipline, whilst Wigan continue to try and carve us open with patient passing. The spectre of penalties – that scenario we so love – looms larger, but there is still time to see out. With five minutes to go, Jordi Gomez is played clean through and it seems as though heartbreak is inevitable. But incredibly, the Spaniard places his shot wide of Duke’s post. We cheer as though we are celebrating a goal.

Penalties are taken at the opposite end of the stadium. In front of an empty stand. Goodness knows who makes these decisions, but it probably gives Wigan a better chance compared to facing up to 5,000 City fans booing them. The first two penalties for each side are converted, before Darby scores and Shaun Maloney misses. Soon after City are 4-2 up, and Wigan have to score their fifth penalty to stay in the game. Gomez’s tame effort is brilliantly saved by Duke, cueing the memorable scenes of his team mates chasing him to the corner flag to pile on him in celebration.

Something most of us only see after watching clips from the game on TV later. We are lost in a sea of emotions as we go crazy revelling in the most incredible of victories. I jump on my long-time City watching friend Stephen, and we hug for a good few seconds. In a flash, memories of dour and dreadful away days run through your mind to offer perspective of how good this moment is. We’ve seen so much crap and endured so much pain, but tonight belongs to us supporters. Everywhere you look people are jumping on top of each other and cheering loudly.

Eventually the players de-mob from Duke’s back and come over to join the party. We’ve not seen full time scenes like this for many, many years. It is as though we have won promotion. It’s probably the best moment supporting the club in over a decade.

When we finally have to leave the DW, we pass TVs in the concourse reflecting on Arsenal’s live TV 7-5 victory over Reading. They will get tomorrow’s headlines, not us, but it doesn’t really matter. We will be in the hat alongside Arsenal and six other sides. We are in the last eight of the League Cup. Astonishing stuff.

We get out of the car park easily, and onto the M6 in no time. We are riding on the crest of a wave. Scarcely believing what we had just seen and struggling to comprehend the scale of the achievement. 24 long hours to get through before the draw for the next round of the cup is made. I just want us to play one of the big guns, at home. We are due that glam tie now. Surely.

Read our look back on Bradford City 3 Burton Albion 2

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From Wigan to Wembley – a view from the psychiatrist’s couch

1 Mar

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By Martin Keighley

My life and lifestyle has always been strongly linked with the ups and downs of Bradford City.

City fans understand and celebrate success more than most because, on the whole, they have tasted large slices of disappointment more often than most. It’s not like supporting Manchester United or Liverpool. For a start you can afford to go to most games so the suffering and rare moments of elation are truly hands-on.

On 30 October, 2012 – the evening Wigan were defeated on penalties – my relationship with Bradford City would change and I was to become unbearable for 117 days. During this time I became a Twitter addict about all things #bcafc, I checked the City website and the message boards four times a day and my only conversation topic was Bradford City. As the days wore on I gradually became an emotional wreck, an addict desperate for another score.

On that cold Tuesday night in Wigan I got home at 1am, shattered, exhausted and utterly euphoric. I felt fantastic. The dose of drama that was the extra time and penalties at Wigan left me wanting more. I was physically ill with sore hands and no voice, but it was the psychological after-effects that were to become the biggest worry. My wife was extremely tolerant and my non-football friends would often nod with that “oh he’s off talking Bradford City again” sort of look. But I was totally oblivious.

I was well and truly hooked and like any junkie I was desperate for another big fix. But the next one was big, really big. Watching the Arsenal team bus arrive a Valley Parade to the chants of “you’re only here for the Bradford” to watching the full TV coverage when I got home lasted almost eleven hours. I was now insufferable, and it was going to get worse, much worse.

After the Villa home game I would unconsciously watch the TV coverage over and over again in some kind of ritual preparation for the second leg. Meanwhile the league form resembled the normality of the last ten years, providing a little hope interspersed with large doses of averageness. My social life fell apart, my skin became pale and the only people who understood were my fellow junkies.

Villa away was my first overdose. This time my Bradford City hit lasted around fifteen straight hours, but during the aftermath I was impossible.  I’d never sung “que sera sera” before, and now I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. I was in danger of total social withdrawal.

For the next thirty three days I was restless, almost sleepless, and my health continued to deteriorate. I started to have weird dreams and my hallucinations became worse. All sense of normality and logic seemed to dissolve away as I imagined Gary Jones lifting the cup. I really needed help but just didn’t know it.

Was Wembley to be the answer? A massive shot of hope, expectation and above all, pride, was to be quickly followed by the cold turkey of football realism. There was of course one last finale as the last twenty five minutes of singing and flag waving once again ripped my emotions to shreds. I was finally beaten. It was all over.

I knew I was clean the next morning as I awoke from my first proper sleep in weeks, ate sensibly, and found I could make non-football conversation without effort. I looked forward to the normality of a midweek evening Division Two match. My 117 days of agony was over.

The Midweek Player Focus #27: Carl McHugh

17 Dec

The Rocky Road to Bradford

By Damien Wilkinson

It’s around 4.15pm on Saturday 24 November, 2012, at a wet Memorial Stadium, and Carl McHugh has just equalised for Bradford City at Bristol Rovers, with a powerful header to make the score 2-2. Whilst the match eventually finished 3-3, and despite McHugh’s valiant attempts to restrain Nathan Doyle and prevent him collecting a late red-card in a case of ‘hand-bags’ towards the end, he managed to make the headlines in a number of the following day’s papers, including the Donegal Democrat, his local hometown publication, probably not too used to reporting Bradford City’s progress!

Indeed, you probably need to go back to the late 1950s, and early 1960s, and former City player John McCole, to find an ex-player of note from the County Donegal area. McCole, had two spells at City, scoring an impressive 47 goals in 88 league matches (in addition to 45 goals in 78 matches at Leeds!)

As a relative unknown newcomer into the City squad, essentially brought in as a squad player during the 2012/2013 close season, how did the 19 year old McHugh find himself here?

Born on 5 February 1993, McHugh grew up in Toome, in the gloriously named, Lettermacaward, County Donegal (conveniently shortened to “Leitir” by locals), which is located in the upper North West of Ireland, and has a population of around a thousand. McHugh’s nearest club of note, and apparently the club he followed, was Finn Harps, based in Ballybofey.

McHugh worked his way up through the footballing ladder, and participation in the Kennedy Cup (an annual competition  played between under 13 Leagues in Limerick University each June, when teams representing all 32 Leagues compete over an entire week) when he was 12, led to subsequent trials at Liverpool, Celtic, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Ipswich Town, Norwich City and Southampton.  The local paper even quipped that McHugh has had more trials than many a magistrate! McHugh was accompanied on his Celtic trial by Paddy McBrearty, now a Gaelic football sensation, who remains close friends with McHugh.

A spell at local club Dungloe Town FC, provided McHugh with a stepping stone (coincidentally the Gaelic version of Dungloe means grey stepping stone!), leading to him signing a three year scholarship with Reading’s academy, when he was 16. The strong Irish contingent there (Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Noel and Stephen Hunt) helping him settle in, together with Brian Murphy, a young player from Wexford, who joined around the same time as McHugh, and shared digs with him.

Loan spells at Swindon Supermarine FC, in the Southern League Premier division (who currently play in Southern League Division One South & West) and more closer to home, League of Ireland Premier division outfit, Dundalk FC, led to 7 and 12 league appearances respectively (with McHugh notching a couple of goals for the Swindon club, and playing in 4 FAI Cup matches for Dundalk). McHugh signed a one year professional contract with Reading, shortly before the loan move to Dundalk.

McHugh has also represented his country, appearing 5 times for both Republic of Ireland under 17’s and under 19’s sides, in addition to captaining Ireland at both under 16 and under 17 levels, and playing for the under 15 side.

As part of his pre-season recruitment, Phil Parkinson, swooped to sign McHugh in August 2012, who had become a free agent, and he was handed the 16 squad number. McHugh had linked up with City during the summer mini-tour of Ireland, and played in the match against Wexford Youths, coming on as a second half substitute. Whilst he missed the second match against Bray with a slight hamstring injury, he had clearly impressed Parkinson enough.

As a left footed player, who can play either centre half or left back, his signing was seen as a further addition to add versatility and cover to Parkinson’s squad.

McHugh made his City debut in the Capital One Second Round 2-1 triumph away at Watford on 28 August, playing the whole match in the left back berth. Despite a number of appearances on the bench, McHugh finally made his league debut, making an appearance as a half time substitute, following injury to Andrew Davies, in City’s extremely disappointing 1-0 loss away at Burton Albion, on 27 October, compounded by Luke Oliver’s injury and Ricky Ravenhill’s red-card.

Since then McHugh has made six league and six cup appearances with the third equalising goal against Northampton in the FA Cup replay, forcing the tie to penalties, in addition to his goal at Bristol Rovers. McHugh certainly put in a shift in the Cup matches against Wigan, playing the entire match and a key part in keeping a clean sheet, and Arsenal. These experiences will no doubt stand him in good stead.

Given the injury situation at City this season, in particular the long term loss of both Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies, compounded by the subsequent injury to John Egan, McHugh has been thrust into the limelight, possibly sooner than Phil Parkinson, might have originally expected. That McHugh has so far responded extremely well to the challenge, offers much grounds for optimism.

The key thing over the rest of the season will be to try to avoid not pushing the player too much, whilst allowing his development to progress at the right pace. This would seem to ring true in light of the recent loan capture of centre back Curtis Good, and you feel Parkinson may seek to shuffle the centre back ‘pack’ over the coming games to accommodate this, injuries permitting.

Playing alongside Rory McArdle, and hopefully not before too long, Andrew Davies, will undoubtedly aid McHugh’s development, given their experience and ability to help McHugh ‘read’ the game. There are some parallels with former City defender, Mark Bower, both in terms of build and ability to operate on the left side, and in the rough and tumble of League Two, McHugh will no doubt need his own “Wetherall” to operate alongside.

Let’s trust we can look forward to his progression in parallel with that of a resurgent City side.

It would also be good to think that the scribes at the Donegal Democrat will be kept busy with further reports from West Yorkshire.

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