BATTLING BLUES TRAVEL TO WET, WINDY WIGAN

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Jan 25th, 2008

After reaching our third League Cup Final in four years last week, attention now turns to the senior cup competition in England, the oldest cup competition in the world, the FA Cup, and a fourth round tie away at Wigan. The JJB Stadium will host the game, and they have more than made up for what is likely to be a grim, wet and windy Saturday evening by pricing away tickets at a charitable £20. Last time we played Wigan, it marked the first ever ‘Return to the Shed’ away day with thousands of vociferous Blues fans travelling up North to cheer on Chelsea. With cheap tickets and train travel organised by the club, we already have plenty to cheer; a win at Wigan and a place in the fifth round and we’d be absolutely beaming.Aiming to make it into the hat for the next round, our depleted squad will have to galvanise themselves and do it all again after Wednesday’s battling victory over Everton at Goodison Park. It seems strange after a game nowadays to report no injuries from the match, indeed, Michael Ballack, who missed out on Wednesday with a calf injury, should feature again at the JJB. Unfortunately though, Frank Lampard has suffered a set back in his fight for match fitness, after tearing his thigh muscle in training. The African absentees, Didier Drogba, John Mikel Obi, Salomon Kalou and Michael Essien, mean the squad is stretched, so Steve Sidwell could make another start in midfield after a decent enough game on Wednesday.

Wigan meanwhile have been busy strengthening their own modest squad over January, with manager Steve Bruce dipping into the transfer market to bring in fresh recruits. As well as bringing in Honduran defender Maynor Figueroa, Bruce has completed the signings of Figueroa’s fellow countryman Wilson Palacios, Erik Edman-the former Spurs defender-and made Luis Antonio Valencia’s loan move from Villarreal permanent. With current squad members underperforming (Titus Bramble in particular), others making costly mistakes (Bramble again) and the rest perhaps not cut out for the Premier League (Sorry Titus, you again mate), the added squad competition should help Wigan in their fight for survival.

Wigan reached the fourth round with a second-string side coming out on top against a dismal Sunderland side. Goals from Paul Scharner and Dave Cotterill sandwiched a Paul McShane own goal to dump Roy Keane’s team out. Chelsea meanwhile edged the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’ with a narrow 1-0 at home to QPR.

The last time we played Wigan was the aforementioned ‘away day’ which featured two early goals, one of them a sensational, as well as unexpected, 30-yard Juliano Belletti strike to add to a Lampard opener. In truth it was an absolute breeze that day, and seeing as Wigan have not beaten Chelsea since the 1981/82 season, we should hope for more of the same on Saturday. That Wigan win however, came in the League Cup with the Latics recording a 4-2 victory. It was only the second time the sides had met, the first coming a couple of years earlier in 1980, and Wigan won that too, a 1-0 win coming as a huge shock given their then status of minnows in English football. And need you ask which competition was that in?

The FA Cup is famous for its surprises, but we are the cup kings. And we’re not ready to end our reign just yet.

Prediction: Another 2-0 win (could be anything up to 6-0 if my mate Titus is playing) with Anelka scoring his first goal and the Blues safely slipping into both the comfort zone, and the fifth round draw.

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