Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Wigan triumph gives fans reason to forget on a night to remember


Dion Fanning

Wigan Athletic could be relegated from the Premier League this week but they will do so as the winners of the FA Cup.

Wigan Athletic could be relegated from the Premier League this week but they will do so as the winners of the FA Cup.

There was so much to celebrate at Wembley yesterday, not least the fact that there was something to celebrate on what used to be the grandest day in English football.

Wigan produced a Cup final performance to remember and it has been a long time since there has been one of those.

Manchester City staggered out of Wembley after a limp performance which encapsulated their season. Roberto Mancini claimed they didn't deserve to lose but though Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez played with energy, City could not surrender midfield as they did and expect to win.

They played the final seven minutes with 10 men after Pablo Zabaleta was sent off for two fouls on the outstanding Callum McManaman. In injury-time, Ben Watson headed Shaun Maloney's corner past Joe Hart and moments later Wigan were celebrating their improbable victory.

Roberto Martinez wondered if his side would be energised by this spectacular achievement and stressed the importance of staying in the Premier League. If they can beat Manchester City at Wembley, they may be able to beat Arsenal at the Emirates. Yet there will have been a physical toll.

The romantic, or the hopelessly romantic, might like to think victory at Wembley matters more but, survival – as Martinez said after the game – is like winning the league for his club.

Wigan will be in Europe next season but Martinez doesn't want them competing from the Championship. They kept a clean sheet yesterday but they have conceded too easily, too often and while injuries have disrupted their season, the mistakes have too often been simple.

They dominated the game and defended well, putting Manchester City on the back foot for most of the match with their vibrant, intelligent football as McManaman gave one of the great Cup final performances. "He is one of the biggest diamonds in English football," Martinez said.

Wigan got the ball to him on the right whenever they could, but all around him, they played with intelligence, movement and purpose. James McCarthy was disciplined and authoritative in midfield.

The Manchester City fans began the day chanting their support for Roberto Mancini and telling the board to "stick your Pellegrini up your arse" following reports that Manuel Pellegrini was about to be offered the job.

They found it harder to be enthusiastic at the end and Mancini's post-match complaints that the club should have clarified the situation may not help. Things will soon be clarified, but not as he would like.

He tried to complain about yesterday's defeat but there were few grounds. City had moments of pressure and they had chances but the flow of the game was with Wigan and the persistent threat came from McManaman.

In the first half, he could have scored twice but took the wrong option each time, curling a left-foot shot wide when he could have taken it on his right moments earlier, then dancing around the box, refusing to shoot or pass until it was too late.

City had their chances but they were against the run of play. Samir Nasri, who played well until he was taken off in the 56th minute, cut inside from the left and played a delicate ball inside the Wigan defence which found David Silva's run into the box. Silva pulled the ball across goal where Tevez was waiting and Joel Robles dived the wrong way as Tevez shot back across goal but he knocked the ball over the bar with his leg. Just before the half ended, Joel saved again, this time from Nasri.

Wigan felt they should have had a penalty when Roger Espinoza got away from Zabaleta. His recovery tackle didn't get much of the ball but Espinoza rode it initially before he fell down a broken man, albeit a broken man a bit too desperate for a penalty.

The fear for Wigan was always that they would concede too easily but they remained defensively solid, although early in the second half Tevez crossed for Aguero but his near-post touch was deflected wide by Emmerson Boyce.

But it was McManaman who was electrifying the game, even as lightning flashed overhead. Zabaleta had been booked once for pulling him back before he lunged in as McManaman threatened to burst through on a Wigan counter-attack. A straight red might have been harsh but the second yellow wasn't.

The dismissal recognised McManaman's torment of City. He had been a pest and Zabaleta was the one to pay for the trouble he had caused the entire City defence, Gael Clichy in particular.

By the time of Zabaleta's dismissal, Wigan might have felt they had wasted their chances. Earlier McManaman had glided into the box with Vincent Kompany charging across to block his goal-bound shot, then Matija Nastasic was booked for a foul on him and from the free-kick, Maloney clipped the crossbar.

The game didn't change when City went down to 10 as Wigan continued to have the advantage.

Extra-time was waiting when McManaman went on one last run. He sped past Clichy, who appeared to push him off the ball. McManaman wanted the penalty. He got the corner and that was enough.

The game entered injury-time as Maloney took it. Substitute Watson made a smart run and headed the ball past Hart. Wigan celebrated wildly. They had achieved the impossible. They had made the final relevant.

The 5.15 kick-off time had rightly angered supporters of both northern clubs who wondered how they would get home. Last night, as they danced around Wembley, Wigan supporters didn't care. If there had been a train to catch, they'd have missed it.

Irish Independent

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