Plucky Wigan Athletic overcame League One giants Hartlepool United at Victoria Park in what will go down a famous victory for the minnows, who had been tipped for easy elimination. A two-division gulf separates the sides, and Wigan chose to rest players over the weekend for this crucial tie. Their decision to focus on the Carling Cup paid immediate dividends when Hartlepool defender Sam Collins deflected a hopeful free kick into his own net, just three minutes after kickoff.
The goal spurred Hartlepool into immediate action, and while Wigan had some promising spells the gulf quality started to tell as the Latics net came under siege. It took a stunning save from goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi to deny Joe Gamble in the 28th minute, the Irish midfielder looking threatening every time he squared off against the Wigan defence. Al Habsi, on loan from Premier League side Bolton, made two more exceptional saves in the first half, smothering another long range effort authored by Gamble as well as a low shot by England man Paul Murray.
Hartlepool grew visibly frustrated as their attempts to get back into the game against weaker opposition failed to yield results, and Wigan looked more threatening on the break in the second half. The Latics were already showing nerves, though, Al Habsi going into the book for time-wasting in the 70th minute. His efforts turned out to be unnecessary as Wigan rocked their more illustrious opponents with a stunning strike seconds afterward. Jordi Gomez cracked an astonishing effort from a free kick 25 yards out, cracking the ball against the bottom of the crossbar and leaving Scott Flinders with no chance to make a save.
Although Hartlepool's complacency was by now completely shattered they could not find the necessary gear to drag themselves back into the game, and young midfielder Victor Moses made the scoreline embarrassing for the home team with an 86th minute drive from the edge of the box. Wigan held on comfortably for a historic 3-0 victory, and Hartlepool's players trudged off the field in dejected silence.
Manager Roberto Martinez was elated with the result:
It was a fantastic performance, and goes to show that football truly a team sport. No amount of individual skill can overcome fighting spirit, and [Hartlepool manager Mick] Wadsworth maybe took us too lightly. Credit to Ali [Al Habsi] for keeping us in the game and giving the defenders some confidence against some top-quality opposition. It's been a great night for Wigan Athletic.
Goalscorer Victor Moses agreed:
You hear about what the teams in the first division have done - Liverpool's dominance in Europe, can't even count how many European Cups - and you maybe doubt you can ever play against clubs at that level. We've proved we belong tonight, and we won't forget this for a long, long time.
Despite a poor start to their league campaign, Wigan seem on track for their stated long term plans of reaching League One within five years, which would be a fitting tribute to their lofty ambitions.
Read more about Wigan Athletic at Dreaming of Wigan