Chris Burton reflects on a remarkable day for Wigan as they make history by beating Manchester City 1-0 in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Last Updated: 12/05/13 8:48am
Wigan Athletic defied the odds at Wembley Stadium on Saturday to claim major silverware in their first FA Cup final appearance, with a dramatic end to proceedings seeing them to a 1-0 victory over Manchester City.
City, who will end the season empty-handed, were sluggish throughout and failed to make the most of the few opportunities they did create - handing the initiative to the Latics.
Roberto Martinez's men were able to grasp the opportunity presented to them, with Ben Watson stepping off the bench to nod home in stoppage-time - after City had seen Pablo Zabaleta collect a second yellow card.
All of the talk prior to kick-off focused on the inclusion of Joe Hart within the Manchester City side, with the England international coming in for his first FA Cup appearance since the 2011 final. Costel Pantilimon had figured throughout the Blues' run to Wembley, but found himself benched by Roberto Mancini. James Milner and Edin Dzeko also had to make do with a place on the sidelines, with Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero earning recalls.
Wigan also caused a stir with their goalkeeping selection, with Ali Al Habsi left disappointed as Joel Robles took the number one jersey. Club captain Gary Caldwell was to get his hands on the silverware at the final whistle, but he failed to make it off the bench. Martinez stuck with his tried tested, with the Spaniard conceding that continuity is vital at this stage of the season - with Wigan still scrapping for Premier League survival.
City were unable to make the most of the creative talents within their ranks, with David Silva starved of service - or involved in areas where he was unable to make a telling contribution. With Milner left on the bench, the Blues lacked width down their right and were forced down the middle far too often. They also lacked height up front in the absence of Dzeko and were far too predictable in the final third on too many occasions - with Wigan able to sit deep and let City try to pick a way through.
Wigan also lacked an out ball up front, but saw Arouna Kone put in another shift full of running and clever hold-up play. The Latics have never wavered from their neat passing game throughout their struggles in the league, and they stuck to their guns on Saturday. Wembley is known for being a big pitch, and that plays into the hands of teams like Wigan who like to get the ball down and play. They were solid at the back and lively going forward, with Callum McManaman a particular thorn in City's side.
Mancini was the first to blink on cup final day, with the City boss turning to his bench on 54 minutes. It was clear that the Blues needed to find something from somewhere, and Milner was introduced in place of the ineffective Samir Nasri. He got involved as often as possible, but failed to produce much down the right flank. The decision to replace Carlos Tevez with Jack Rodwell came as something of a surprise, as the game was locked at 0-0 at the time and required someone like Tevez to step up and produce a moment of magic. Dzeko was thrown on after Wigan scored, but had no time in which to pose a threat.
Martinez made just one change, but what a change it was. He offered Ben Watson and opportunity to grace the Wembley turf at the end of a season which has been severely disrupted by a serious injury. He did not let his manager down as he found himself in the right place at the right time as Shaun Maloney whipped over a late corner. His bullet header flew past Joe Hart and emotions threatened to spill over for Watson as he celebrated - with the midfielder seemingly close to tears.
Andre Marriner was handed the honour of taking charge of his first FA Cup final, and he did a solid job. He flashed four yellow cards and one red, and there can be few complaints at any of those decisions. Pablo Zabaleta left the officials with no choice but to send him for an early shower, with two cynical challenges earning him two cautions. Marriner kept the game flowing at all times and rightly waved away a number of penalty appeals.
Tevez could, and probably should, have put City in front during the first half. He was found all alone to poke the ball goalwards from close range, but saw Joel somehow get a toe to his effort and send it looping over the crossbar. Aguero saw little of the target as he was well marshalled, and Nasri also endured a forgettable afternoon - with the Frenchman's inconsistencies this season continuing. Toure looked like a man returning from a knock, as he tired, and Silva was unable to provide the spark City desperately needed.
McManaman has quickly become a key figure for Wigan, with the young forward having taken his game to another level after making headlines for all the wrong reasons during a Premier League clash with Newcastle United back in March. He gave Gael Clichy a torrid time at Wembley and will be disappointed not to have a cup final goal to show for his efforts. Kone was the other man to shine for the Latics, with the Ivorian forward having bought into the team ethic which has served Wigan so well over recent years.
Inevitably, given the season they have had and the fact that they have been unable to put any trophies in the cabinet, much of the focus at the final whistle was on Mancini and his future at City. The Italian insists defeat at Wembley changes nothing, with it his opinion that he will be in his current post next season, but he may have that decision taken out of his hands. Speculation is already suggesting that Manuel Pellegrini is being lined up as his replacement, with the Chilean having revealed that he is to leave Malaga at the end of the season.
For Wigan, they cannot afford to celebrate too hard with the cup presenting a welcome distraction from their league struggles. The Latics find themselves inside the Premier League zone, three points from safety with just two games left to play. They will be looking for others to do them a favour on Sunday, offering them fresh hope in their bid to beat the drop. Silverware should provide a spark, but whether it offers enough to see Wigan safe remains to be seen - with testing fixtures against Arsenal and Aston Villa to come.