Football is a simple game and football is a beautiful game – sentiments that announced themselves with clarion call when Wigan met Manchester City in the last round of this competition. City, the best side in the country, wove lovely patterns in dominating the ball and dictating the play, but Wigan, the 46th best side in the country, defended aggressively, attacked bravely, and took their chance brilliantly. Add to that a late tackle, exhibition rag-losing, unbridled ecstasy, silliness, schadenfreude and general chaos, and you have a decent answer to the question: “why are you so pitifully obsessed with something so painfully ridiculous?”
And Wigan will fancy themselves this afternoon, for Southampton are a mess. It’s possible that, after being mercilessly plundered, they’ve finally run out of players, except looking down their squad, they still have plenty of them. They might be struggling for a scorer, but they’ve no business being where they are on as bad a run as they are, so it’s far more likely that they simply compounded the error of sacking Claude Puel with the mistake of appointing Mauricio Pellegrino.
Quite whether Mark Hughes can resolve this is hard to predict. He will probably instil some steel, because no one will fancy meeting him in the dressing room having not left it all out there. And he definitely has some knowledge of what constitutes a good player, for he was one and has bought some, and what constitutes a good team, for he played in some and has managed some. The question is whether he can inspire and organise, quickly, because that is what he needs to do.
Football clubs being football clubs, the likelihood is that Hughes has been ordered, not to win the Cup because who needs eternal, unique, historic memories, but to keep Southampton up, because MONEY. And I suppose it would be hilarious and very football if his new club stayed up at the expense of the old one whom he helped there. But as Wigan fans know as well as anyone, football isn’t about preserving status but enshrining the greatest days and memories for evermore, so here we are!
Kick-off: 1.30pm GMT