Reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup is hardly the most stunning of achievements but when, like Wigan Athletic, you’ve only ever managed it once before in your history, it’s got to be a cause for celebration. So we’ve only had to win two ties to get there, but given that we’ve only won six FA Cup games in the last ten years then that’s something else to shout about, isn’t it?
So you’d think, but us Wiganers are picky buggers. It’s not enough to just win FA Cup matches any more: we also have to ‘take it seriously’ at the same time. For the uninitiated, ‘taking it seriously’ means playing your first team, playing in a gung-ho fashion and grinding lower league sides into the rutted surface of their non-undersoil-heated pitch.
The phrase is usually wheeled out either as an excuse for a half empty stadium – “why should I go, they’re not going to take it seriously” – or for an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a group of postmen and warehouse workers: “it would never have happened if the manager had taken it seriously.” At Wigan, it’s just another stick to beat the manager with.
In the not too dim and distant past, Latics were rightfully proud of their FA Cup record. Our non-league days saw plenty of league sides swept to one side, along with a healthy sprinkling of heroic defeats for good measure.
This tradition continued following our election to the league in 1978, peaking with our run to the quarter finals in 1986-87. In eight of the sixteen years that followed we made the third round. Again, that’s only two ties won, but that traditional pop at the big boys has long been the benchmark for lower league sides.
Then we made the Championship and suddenly became one of those big boys. Not that joining Cup proceedings in January has done us many favours: as previously stated, we’ve only managed six FA Cup wins since 2003. Six wins in ten years and four of those have come under Roberto Martínez.
The Latics have their most successful FA Cup manager of recent times, and that's something else to be happy about, but there's still plenty of disquiet around. It’s mostly to do with the assumption that Roberto won't ‘take it seriously’ against Huddersfield on Sunday.
Not that I'd ever accuse anyone of wanting to have their pie and eat it, but the same people deriding the manager’s potentially weakened team are the same ones who talk about relegation from the Premier League as if it was up there with taking your dog to get put down.
There’s one point that I’ll concede to those clamouring for Wigan to play a full-strength team on Sunday: we need a win from somewhere. No matter how tanned and rested the team is from their week in the sun, the fans need a bit of cheer. We keep hearing that spirit is high in the squad but it’s not in the stands and a good win would do us the world of good.
We sort of thought we’d get one against Bournemouth and definitely against Macclesfield, but both turned out to be more of a late night dash through a cemetery than the expected walk in the park.
With our season needing its regular spring-time go on the defibrillator, now seems as good a time as any to take a little bit of a risk and go for the sort of cup win that we saw in the early rounds of the League Cup against Nottingham Forest and West Ham.
A win could give everyone around the club a much needed boost and it would turn the couple of wins we’ve had into a bona fide Cup run. For a club like Wigan Athletic, without the finances to push further up the league, a Cup run is probably the nearest that we can get to real success.
There’s a flip side to these arguments, even though saying this makes me feel like Sméagol cooing his first “My Precious”: Barclayspremierleague survival has to be our priority right now.
League positions, especially at the sharp ends of the table, are built on fine margins and even the smallest distraction could tip the balance. The 1986/87 Latics team that got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup missed out on promotion by two points. I doubt that there are many Wiganers that wouldn’t take an additional two points over Cup progression right now.
Then there’s the bigger risk of injuries. The Latics’ physios have been busier than the strikers down at the DW Stadium this season and long-term injuries to Antolín Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis have been a major factor in our poor showing.
A turned ankle for any of our first team, on a pitch that will have been ploughed by a Rugby League match the night before, could easily throw an already stretched squad into turmoil. Woe betide it happens to James McCarthy, James McArthur or Shaun Maloney – the few that have shown they can actually play this season.
It’s a difficult choice for the manager and one I wouldn’t fancy. If Roberto puts out a strong team and we lose then he’ll be wrong. If we win but lose players to injury, he’ll be wrong. If we win easily then he’ll only be right because he’s done what his detractors have been telling him to do all along. If he puts out a weakened team then, no matter what happens he’ll be wrong because he really should ‘take it seriously.’
Alan Moore writes for Wigan fansite This Northern Soul
Follow Alan on Twitter: @TNS_WAFC