To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a Boxing Day belter that would have a very different slant on it today.
Twelve years ago this Christmas Wigan Athletic beat Manchester City in a seven goal thriller at the JJB Stadium. The Latics were six months in to their first ever season in the top flight and safely moored in mid-table their sole aspiration was to establish themselves as a Premier League club. With that aim in mind this victory certainly helped, secured on Boxing Day 2005, as too did their surprise win up in Manchester three months later. Under the charge of their impressive coach Paul Jewell, Wigan were very much a club on the up.
As for City this 4-3 defeat was just the latest in a series of setbacks endured during a drab and underwhelming period that still sends a shiver down Blues’ spines to this very day. Throughout the whole season Stuart Pearce’s side never once inhabited the bottom three yet also never threatened to reach the heady heights of mid-table that Wigan revelled in. Furthermore the club was essentially skint yet still somehow found the resources to purchase Georgios Samaras that summer, a Greek saviour who finished the campaign with just five goals. That summer they also had the opportunity to recruit an aging trialist for free, a midfielder with bags of experience and six La Liga titles to his name. Pearce, in his infinite wisdom, turned him down. His name was Pep Guardiola.
Presently both clubs are top of their respective tables, with Wigan enjoying eight consecutive years in the Premier League (sometimes requiring last day heroics to do so) before twice plummeting into the third tier. That’s where they are now, in League One with promotion in their nostrils. City meanwhile lead the field in the same league they have resided in since a Lee McCulloch header, Henri Camara decider, and Jason Roberts double saw them off home to eat their turkey leftovers in miserable fashion. Yet speak to anyone at the ground that day and inform them of what the future beckoned and only one fan-base would be astonished, and it wouldn’t be the club destined to yo-yo through the divisions.
Regarding the game itself both clubs went into this festive contest buoyed by healthy wins prior to Santa’s arrival. What also united the sides was that each were being elevated on a weekly basis by influential midfield performances from Joey Barton for City and Jimmy Bullard for the Latics. Both men featured prominently here with Barton banging home a late consolation volley and the soon-to-be Sky joker running the show elsewhere.
The real star of the day however was City’s farcical defending and here some sympathy is due for Pearce who said later, “For a defender of 25 years watching us defend was a horror show”. It was hardly a comedy of errors for the travelling supporters either and in truth three of Wigan’s quartet of goals was gifted to them even if they were executed professionally.
City’s French midfielder Antoine Sibierski opened proceedings two minutes in with a far-post header but from then onwards it was all Wigan as they countered brilliantly and exploited the gaps offered up by a haphazard back-line. Roberts equalised soon after before McCulloch guided home a powerful header. Before the first half was out Roberts once again capitalised on indecision to convert his second one-on-one with David James.
When Camara easily turned his marker and slid home a fourth the result was no longer in doubt, or so everyone believed at least. Barton’s humdinger reduced the deficit and when Andy Cole pulled back a third with 90 seconds left on the clock it meant a nail-biting finale was on the cards.
“You can’t take your foot off the gas at this level,” a relived Jewell said later. “We created our own problems,” was Pearce’s diagnosis. Perhaps if they had a master tactician on the pitch it might have been different, let’s say for argument’s sake a highly experienced five-time La Liga winner.
What happened next?
Wigan’s inaugural season in the top flight ended successfully with a tenth place finish and better yet an appearance at the Millennium Stadium in the League Cup final where they lost to Manchester United.
City’s existing for existence’s sake continued for a further year in an era that can safely be described as a prolonged calm before a storm.