Both teams played like sides coming off a weekend cup semifinal, but when either Manchester City or Wigan were able to put something together Wednesday at Eastlands, it was usually the Latics that were threatening to go in front. Four days after securing their first FA Cup final in club history, the only thing that kept Wigan from the three points were Joe Hart and an off-the-line clearance from Joleon Lescott. Despite Wigan creating almost all the match’s over the first 80 minutes, the game looked destined to end 0-0.
Then Carlos Tévez, in the 83rd minute, got a ball at the edge of Wigan’s area. He danced around one defender, cut inside another, and was finally able to create the type of chance City had eschewed all night. With a right-footed blast from 14 yards out, Tévez beat Joel Robles high at the left (near) post, giving City three points where they deserved none. Wigan fell, 1-0.
Before kickoff, Roberto Martínez shouldn’t have expected anything from Eastlands, but that’s poor consolation when your team’s left empty-handed, particularly when you’re sitting in 18th place. Coming into today’s match, the embattled Latics could placate themselves knowing the three points that separated them from 17th place Aston Villa could be made up with their two matches in hand. But now, with only one game to make up on their relegation rivals, Wigan’s left the rue what should have been. Soccer’s often a game of undeserved results, but you don’t expect to be reminded of such paradox when you need points the most.
Wigan’s still not in terrible shape, as relegation fights go. They’re still 18th, still three points back, but they’re chasing four teams who’ve volunteered for a scrap. Villa, Stoke City and Sunderland all have 34 points, while Norwich’s 35 comes with a troublesome goal difference (-21). All Martínez needs is for one of those teams to stumble (or in the case of Stoke and Norwich, continue their descent). If Wigan keeps playing like they have over the last five days, the Latics will catch somebody.
For Manchester City, the win leaves them seven points into second, and while it always seemed unlikely they’d let another team pass them, now the had enough room to kick it into neutral and coast across the finish line. After their big win on Sunday, City’s got the FA Cup final and little else.