Wigan Away Quarter Final FA Cup and Mark Hughes
Having let him spend good money on his own man, Carrillo, the club’s plan must surely have been to keep Mauricio Pellegrino, at least until a low-key dismissal in the off season. That had to be thrown into reverse after the affair at Newcastle – Højbjerg’s enigmatic TV interview hinted at an unholy row, but the (now) ex-coach’s own statements rather left him in an untenable position anyway. Try this little lot for positive man-management: “I think I observe some players that give up and we cannot show this to be honest. When you are losing 2-0 you have to try… but we were never a threat to Newcastle. I never observe the team with the right mentality to compete at this level. We change but we never be on the pitch (sic) with the right attitude to compete at this level. You can lose, you can play bad, but you have to show another face on the pitch. For this reason I like to say sorry to the fans because we couldn’t represent our club properly and this was the worst thing.” Actually there’s more, but that’s surely enough, and the board obviously thought so too.
So much for the past – now for the future, and I thought we only had to whistle and Marco Silva would come running, but that turned out not to be the case. Having been forced into a decision so late in the season, most of the regular firefighters had been snapped up leaving Mark Hughes more or less the only viable name in the field. Not my favourite as a player, and I suspect that the boys on Match of the Day will no longer be able to call us ‘too nice’ any more… but it could have been worse… there’s a pensioner down in Sandbanks whose famous twitch had been returning every time the phone rang!
Mark Hughes’ first team selection for Southampton was positive, with both Gabbiadini and Carrillo lining up for the Wigan cup tie, supported by Boufal. It would be fair to say that things did not go entirely to plan as the Latics coped well enough with the aforementioned players, despite each one’s cost exceeding the entire value being of many League One clubs (and none were to complete the 90 minutes). Indeed it was the home side asking all the questions, forcing a high number of corners which all caused problems in the strong wind, and carving out three highly presentable opportunities whose executions never really tested McCarthy. I can assure armchair viewers that the wind was not only strong but very, very cold and it was also swirling about, but the second half suggested it to be favouring the side playing towards the Saints fans, and that was now the visitors; there must have been more to it, though, as the team were visibly more positive from the kick off. What Wigan had missed was an international class striker, and one of ours should have been crucial when home defender Byrne kindly passed straight to Gabbiadini who was on his own looking sorry for himself somewhere near the penalty spot. A moment’s hesitation from the out of form man allowed Walton to narrow the angle and make the save, and a golden opportunity was gone – but Saints remained on the front foot and five minutes later they took the lead when Højbjerg netted through a crowd of players from a corner. Redmond was immediately introduced for Boufal and had considerable effect, including the pass that sent Gabbiadini clear only for him to be fouled by Burn in the act of shooting. That gave Gabbi and even easier chance from the 12 yard spot, but he was denied by his nemesis Walton as a well struck shot was at the right height for the keeper to make an admittedly outstanding save. Wigan introduced their best (but injured) player Powell and did create some nervy moments, including deep into added time when Hoedt headed over his own bar to give the Latics their 14th and final corner. When Saints cleared, Redmond took the ball away, with Soares in support, not for the first time in an unlikely left wing position as the team looked more interested than under previous management in breaking with purpose. Redmond wasn’t actually interested in Cédric’s run, but his crossfield pass was deflected ideally for the full back to head past Elder and bear down on Walton whose positioning allowed a right footer to score inside the far post.
LSSC Man of the Match: Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Of course the goal helped, but he was important in holding things together in a difficult first half. It would be nice if goals for Højbjerg and Soares could be the first of many for them both, but a better contribution from the more forward players would have helped as well.