KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: Wigan at Wembley, in the old days, always meant rugby league. Not any more. Wigan’s association football club have taken possession of the iconic venue.Their deserved 2-0 win over Millwall in the first FA Cup semi-final means they will return to north London next month.
The fact that they will play Chelsea or Manchester City in the final means that Wigan, win or lose, are virtually sure already of a place in next season’s Europa League. Midfielders Shaun Maoloney and Callum McManaman scored the goals in the 23rd and 77th minutes respectively.
The occasion was soured, however, by Millwall’s notorious ‘nasty fringe’ hooligan followers who scuffled and scrapped among themselves for much of the last 20 minutes of the game in one corner of Wembley.
Maloney opened the scoring in front of a below-capacity crowd of 62,335 with a perfectly-judged volley after Wigan skipper Emmerson Boyce crossed with deceptive simplicity from the right. Indeed, Wigan could have had the match sewn up by half-time had it not been for fine saves by Millwall keeper David Forde from McManaman and Jordi Gomez.
Millwall fought bravely in pursuit of an equaliser after half-time but were killed off when Maloney and Gomez helped set up McManaman for a breakaway second goal to delight Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. Thus there could be two Spanish managers in the final next month if Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea see off Manchester City.
Martinez said: “That was a real warning for us because, for players who have never been to Wembley, to handle the favourites’ tag like that was very hard. We controlled the game well but it was never going to be straightforward. This is what dreams are made of.”
Wigan have been in professional league football for only 35 years and were in the fourth division only 10 years ago.
Their progress to the final was a vindication of the vision and work of chairman Dave Whelan who had first experienced Wembley and the FA Cup Final with Blackburn in 1960. On that occasion Whelan was carried off with a broken leg. Next month he will walk back in as proud owner of one of the finalists.
Martinez, in praise of Whelan, said: “What he has done deserves a movie or a book.”
Millwall manager Kenny Jackett said: “We had a 20-minute spell where we put some pressure on Wigan. We needed something to fall for us but Wigan scored a very good goal on the break which effectively killed the game for us.“
Jackett said he had not been aware of any fighting among Millwall’s notorious fans during the game.
He said: “We want to keep the momentum of the club going forward . . . and if crowd trouble is going to continue that will hold us back. We’ve done everything possible we can – and will continue to do – to help the profile of the club.”
Millwall promised an official statement later in the evening though it was not clear whether this would question why the stewards and police were so slow in dealing with trouble when it began.
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