By Shane Thomas
Two Tuesdays ago, Wigan were leading Swansea 2-1 in a key game in their battle to avoid relegation. In the second-half, James McCarthur, on as a substitute, missed a great chance to secure the win. The commentary team speculated whether Wigan would come to rue that miss.
Wigan went on to lose 3-2.
Now needing a near miracle to stay up, they went to Wembley - as severe underdogs - to play Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. The first-half was a game of thrust and counter-thrust, with the counter-thrust of Wigan proving more incisive. The first clear chance came as Arouna Kone played Callum McManaman in on goal.
There was an opening for a shot, but with Matija Nastasic racing back to cover, McManaman opted not to shoot, instead feinting inside onto his left foot. However, Nastasic didn't take the bait, closed the space down, and McManaman curled his shot wide.
It seemed the prelude to a script that Wigan had been part of already. Surely Man City's greater quality would go on to seize control of the game, and secure their 2nd FA Cup in three seasons.
In sport, the window of opportunity is minute, and only gets smaller when you're an underdog such as Wigan. And with McManaman's spurned chance, it appeared that their window had gone.
But there's one key quality about Wigan under Roberto Martinez, and that's constancy. There's a clarity in their methodology, and it remains unchanging, regardless of the situation they're in.
And that was maybe the most remarkable thing about Wigan's deserved victory over City. They knew the narrative. We all knew the narrative. And yet, Wigan found a way to change it. Miss an opportunity? No matter, just create another one.
Using a shrewd counter-attacking game (that put me in mind of Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest), and having McManaman as the 'out-ball', Wigan were the superior side for the bulk of the match.
It's fair to say that McManaman - who this horror tackle aside - was not only the game's star player, but the FA Cup's star man. He scored in the last 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals of the competition. And he had Gael Clichy on toast throughout the match. He gave the French international a miserable afternoon, constantly beating him in 1 vs 1 situations, and made two key interventions that swung the contest Wigan's way.
After a slack pass from Gareth Barry - who gave a dire display - McManaman was played clear on goal. Trying to make a covering challenge, Pablo Zabaleta brought the Liverpudlian down, and was sent-off for a second yellow card.
Then, as we reached stoppage time, McManaman once again got the better of Clichy down the right-hand side, and was brought down in the penalty box. Personally, I felt it was a foul, but referee, Andre Marriner awarded a corner kick.
So, no penalty. Another great opportunity gone. The window was shut in Wigan's face again. So what did they do? They created another one.
Cognisant that Man City were a man short, Ben Watson - on as a substitute - knew that he could afford to take a gamble and add himself into the melee of players in the box. As Shaun Maloney centred the ball, Watson made a run across Jack Rodwell and powered home a header to win the cup.
It seems fitting that it happened like this. It wasn't just a trophy for Wigan. It was a vindication of their entire footballing philosophy. Journalist, Simon Burnton's post-match tweet sums it up nicely.
I hope Wigan fans truly revel in the glory of their FA Cup success, as three days later, they were beaten 4-1 by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, and finally suffered the pain of relegation. As for Martinez, it makes little sense for him to stay at the DW Stadium if he gets offered a manager's job elsewhere - Goodison Park, anyone?
Even if Martinez had managed to defy the odds again, and keep Wigan in the Premier League, this seems like a natural zenith. Where do you go from here? Win the FA Cup again? Have a long run in the Europa League? All unlikely to happen.
But this isn't the time to focus on next season. For now, we should congratulate Wigan and Martinez on an extraordinary victory. Their persistence and constancy finally bore fruit. They took the window of opportunity, and turned it into the window of victory.
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