The Soccer Desk

Wigan Stun Man City in FA Cup Final

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There’s an old FA Cup joke that gets told countless times come early May, and it goes something like this:

What’s taken to every FA Cup final but never used? The losing team’s trophy ribbons.

With Manchester City the heavy favorites coming into the final, game organizers could have been forgiven for casting aside Wigan’s streamers and attaching City’s sky blue ribbons to the trophy ahead of kick-off. However, thanks to a late header from Ben Watson, it was Wigan’s blue and white that adorned the trophy as they celebrated the club’s first major title.

Despite the looming threat of relegation from the Premier League, the Latics showed an uncharacteristic defensive resolve to stifle City’s potent offense and control large portions of the game. After City’s Pablo Zabaleta had been sent off for a second offense, Wigan’s offensive pressure led to Watson’s goal in the 91st minute, a well-directed header from a Shaun Maloney corner. Watson, who didn’t enter the game until the 81st minute, became Wigan’s unlikely hero after breaking his leg earlier this season.

Joe Cole stretches but can't keep out Ben Watson's header in the 91st minute. (AP)

City keeper Joe Hart stretches but can’t keep out Ben Watson’s header in the 91st minute. (AP)

Much of the Latic’s attacking play centered around Callum McManaman, who gave Gael Clichy fits for the entire match. McManaman had Wigan’s best chance early in the game after latching onto an Arouna Kone pass and cutting back onto his left side, but he couldn’t find the finish.

City responded well to Wigan’s early pressure and came close when Carlos Tevez’s shot from eight yards was parried away by Joel Robles. Robles was the busier keeper in the first half as he also kept out efforts from Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero.

Even after creating chances and dominating a short stretch of the first half, City couldn’t prevent Wigan from settling into the match and moving the ball with confidence. It was more of the same in the second half as the Latics weathered periods of City pressure and threatened with McManaman and Maloney. After denying Aguero and Jack Rodwell, who had surprisingly replaced Tevez in the 69th minute, Wigan nearly scored when a Maloney free-kick glanced off the crossbar.

City were reduced to ten men six minutes from time when Zabaleta took down McManaman for his second yellow card of the match. With the Blues on their heels, Wigan pressed further and McManaman beat Clichy yet again to earn his side a corner. From there, Maloney’s delivery found an unmarked Watson and the substitute powered his header to the far post, cementing his name in FA Cup lore.

Wigan players celebrate Ben Watson's game-winning goal in the 91st minute. (Photo by Jamie McDonald - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Wigan players celebrate Ben Watson’s game-winning goal in the 91st minute. (Photo by Jamie McDonald – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Wigan’s triumph will be especially sweet for chairman Jack Whelan, who broke his leg while playing in the 1960 FA Cup final for Blackburn Rovers. The club, which only gained official league status in 1978, will savor its first major title despite the possibility of losing their place in the top flight, a run that began in 2005.

Manager Roberto Martinez’s future with the club will also be discussed amid the trophy celebrations—the current boss has been linked with a move to Everton following David Moyes’ departure to Manchester United. However, Martinez still insists that his club can avoid relegation with two league matches against Arsenal and Aston Villa remaining.

For City, this defeat caps a trophyless season that’s raised speculation about Roberto Mancini’s departure and the arrival of current Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini. After failing to win their second FA Cup in three seasons, City’s hierarchy will certainly look to strengthen the squad in the summer transfer window.

A quick note for MLS fans: Wigan’s Roger Espinoza, who formerly played for Sporting Kansas City and the Ohio State University, is now the second player to win both the FA Cup and the U.S. Open Cup (Freddie Ljungberg won the FA Cup in 2002 and the U.S. Open Cup in 2009). However, Espinoza’s titles come in consecutive seasons. The midfielder is also the first Honduran to win the FA Cup.