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2012/13 FA Cup Final: Wigan vs Manchester City

The 2013 FA Cup Final will forever go down in history as one of the only times the underdogs stood in the face of English football’s best and still went the distance. So often do we see a heroic run to the final, ending in defeat at the hands of Goliath. 

It’s usually a given, and when Wigan and City lined up for the 2013 FA Cup Final it’s no surprise the bookmakers marked Wigan as 10/1 winners compared to City’s much less enticing 4/11. 

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May 11, 2013…

A day still earmarked as the last great FA Cup Final shock, the last unexpected winner in a final since Wimbledon beat Liverpool in 1988. One of the greatest upsets in FA Cup history. Wigan Athletic delivered a Martinez masterclass, fending off the Premier League champions, 1-0. 

City were in 2nd place with no hope of catching Man United ahead of them with one game to go. They’d had an abysmal Champions League showing, mustering just 3 points in an admittedly tough group featuring Ajax, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and to make matters worse, they’d crashed out of the League Cup in the third round to Aston Villa on Penalties. 

This FA Cup final was their only chance to win silverware this season…

Wigan were in vastly different circumstances. With two games left of the season, Wigan faced relegation, essentially requiring two wins in their final two games to stay up.

Through a string of remarkable performances, they had already shocked the football world by making it to the final. They had dodged a few bullets en route though. The biggest cup test up to this point was Everton, whom they easily dismantled 3-0 in the Quarter-Final. They’d done particularly well to draw division Two side Millwall in the Semi-Final, dodging Chelsea and Man City.

For 99% of onlookers, City was a test too far. But, football is unpredictable as we all know. The weakest, statistically outmatched teams can put on heroic performances way beyond their level in the right circumstances. Somehow, with all the pressure of relegation, and a Cup Final of a level of importance that no Wigan player in that team had faced, or would ever face again, they’d perform beyond even the most deluded fans’ expectations.

This was Roberto Martinez’s magnum opus. His defining match that would, in an instant, change his status from an underpressure failed Premier League manager, to an FA Cup mastermind responsible for Wigan’s most famous victory in its entire history.

Wigan met Man City as if they were equals. Keeper Joel Roblez was busy in goal making multiple saves throughout the game, but Wigan had multiple chances of their own, hitting the bar with a Shuan Maloney Free-kick and Callum Mcmannaman rounding Joe Hart forcing a block from Zableta.

Both were even on possession, most sources reporting a 50/50 split, Wigan by no means simply soaked up City pressure. The match seemed poised for Extra-time, particularly as Zableta had gotten himself sent off for a second yellow in the 84th minute, leaving City at a big disadvantage, trying to consolidate and re-group at the end of normal time.

The question was whether City would make it there.

The Promise Land

The answer came in the form of the late substitute Ben Watson. With a corner in the 88th minute, Watson took up his position in the City box and made a creeping run towards the near post just as Malooney pulled his foot back to strike the ball. 

A beautifully whipped ball came in, and Watson’s movement was perfect, the midfielder leaping in true Salmon fashion, sending an unsavable flicked header into the far corner, and sending Wigan into pandemonium.

Kids all around the country would whip balls into their friends and yell Ben Watson as the tallest friend would leap in the air to try and mimic an instantly famous moment. A moment that reassured millions beginning to worry that a gulf in spending power would keep such upsets from happening. It was a victory for the beautiful game. Football, even in truly unlevel financial playing fields was still just as unpredictable as ever.

Wigan had done it, they’d slain the beast that had suffered dents to their pride all season, and now came the final blow for Roberto Mancini’s City, despite winning the Premier League the previous year. Mancini, failing to build on the prior year was sacked. His reign at City was brought to a startling end.

For Wigan, things would end on a bittersweet note. In spite of their cup success, Wigan would fail to stay up, following a loss to Arsenal just 3 days after the FA Cup final.

As Wigan were relegated, Martinez would leave to manage Everton, as his stock went from failed relegated manager to FA Cup mastermind thanks to one goal from Ben Watson.

I think it’s safe to say Roberto Martinez can owe much of his success to that one goal. Wigan, though now playing in the Championship, the league below, would qualify for Europe thanks to this shock win. 

They went straight into the Group Stage, and battled bravely, but ultimately fell just short of progression, finishing 2 points behind Zulte Waregum and Maribor in 4th, with Rubin Kazan running away with the group with 14 points.

That FA Cup victory is very much the bittersweet cherry atop 10 years of turmoil that followed the club.

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