KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY — The Champions League Final is yet to come. Issues of European qualification and relegation have yet to be resolved. But the FA Cup Final remains at the centre of the beating heart of the football world.
Ever more so after Wigan’s 1-0 win over Manchester City. A last-minute goal from substitute Ben Watson provided the greatest upset in 25 years.
This is the annual climax to the oldest competition: a thread of history which connects the 19th-century founders of the modern game with both the multi-millionaire professionals and the millions of grassroots amateurs of the 21st.
Abide with me may be a common choice for funerals but there is nothing funereal about the FA Cup Final unless that be the atmosphere in the losers’ dressing room. The hymn is a tradition along with the Wembley venue. In the Football Association’s 150th anniversary year this was also the 90th anniversary of the first final at Wembley; the White Horse Final between Bolton Wanders and West Ham United.
It was also the 80th anniversary of Manchester City making history at the Cup Final. In 1933 City and Everton were the first teams to wear numbers in the final. Everton wore one to 11; City wore 12 to 22.
History in action
This time around Wigan were the history-makers. The Latics were appearing in the final for the first time and just 35 years after first having entered the four-division professional league pyramid. The club from a town once renowned for rugby league were also rank outsiders: economy-class relegation fodder against a City of glamour.
Wigan played from the start with a freedom encouraged by the one-off context. Callum McManaman squirmed an angled shot wide from an early and rare opportunity. But City showed greater menace either side. Yaya Toure saw a drive tipped wide by keeper Jorge Robles then the goalkeeper’s flying right foot deflected a Carlos Tevez drive over the bar.
Roberto Martinez had Wigan playing with full-team commitment; Roberto Mancini appeared content to rely on the prospective decisive contribution of individual inspiration.
Nasri had another drive well saved just before half-time but it was hardly surprising that he was the first actor replaced as Mancini grew impatient with the lack of a breakthrough. More evidence of City’s displeasure emerged when Pablo Zabaleta collected the final’s first yellow card for a midfield trip on McManaman.
Substitutes came and went, Zabaleta collected a second yellow card – and red – for felling McManaman and Wigan capitalised to take a last-minute lead with newly-arrived Ben Watson glance-heading home Shaun Maloney’s right-wing corner.
At last destiny had turned a full, ecstatic circle for Wigan owner Dave Whelan, a broken-leg loser with Blackburn in 1960,
All that remains is for them to beat off the looming threat of relegation.
Manchester City: Hart – Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy –Yaya Toure, Barry (Dzeko 90) – Silva, Tevez (Rodwell 69), Nasri (Milner 54) – Aguero.
Wigan: Joel – Boyce, Alcaraz, Scharner – McArthur,McCarthy, Gomez (Watson 81), Maloney – McManaman, Kone, Espinoza.
Yellow/red card: Zabaleta (84)
Yellow cards: Zabaleta, Nastasic, Barry; Joel.