Shaun Maloney curls the ball into the area and Ben Watson rises at the near post, making a perfect contact with the ball that flies past Joe Hart. To see Wigan Athletic win the FA Cup was surreal for the fans who had supported them from non-League.
In the early rounds we fielded a mainly second string line-up aided by a couple of first teamers. Roberto Martinez was accused of not taking the cup seriously by some, but in reality he was seeing if his young players were capable of stepping up to the first team. Callum McManaman was a prime example of a player who hadn’t had much game time but developed into an exciting prospect during the FA Cup run.
We struggled in the third round, drawing at home to Bournemouth before winning the replay at the Goldsands stadium 1-0 with a rare goal by our most expensive signing ever, Mauro Boselli, a player who has spent most of his Wigan career away from the club on loan at Genoa and Palermo.
We had our hearts in our mouths at plucky Macclesfield when the Silkmen nearly caused an upset but a Jordi Gomez penalty got us through 1-0. In the fifth round at Huddersfield we dominated the Terriers and ran out worthy 4-1 winners with two goals by Arouna Kone and one each for McManaman and James McArthur.
The away game at Goodison Park looked on paper to be our stiffest test but we came through with three goals, by Maynor Figueroa, McManaman and Gomez, in the space of three first half minutes. This was breathtaking football by Martinez’s men and favourites Everton were left shell shocked at the final whistle.
Having an FA Cup semi final at Wembley is an anathema for football purists but we couldn’t miss the opportunity for our first visit to the new Wembley in our first ever FA Cup semi final. Millwall are always difficult opponents but in the end our slick passing game got us through to the final with goals by Shaun Maloney and McManaman.
The FA Cup win is exceptional in the context of the modern game, not since Ipswich Town defeated Arsenal in 1978 have a small town club won the FA Cup. Wigan’s achievement in defeating the might of Manchester City is unlikely to be repeated for a very long time.
That the club has come so far is down to the commitment of the Chairman Dave Whelan but is also down to some very good managers, Ray Mathias, John Deehan, John Benson, Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce have all played their part but the manager who deserves most credit is Roberto Martinez.
During his tenure the club achieved outstanding first victories against all the top clubs. A particular highlight being last season’s 1-0 victory over title chasing Manchester United. The victory may have lead to United missing out on the title, but more importantly it helped Wigan to stay in the top flight for another season. Martinez developed firm foundations during his four seasons in charge while winning many new friends with his attractive style of football.
The young players are starting to come through, and he’s also inspired and improved older players like Shaun Maloney whose career seemed to be going nowhere when Celtic released him. He picked up some great bargains from all corners of the world. Arouna Kone, James McCarthy, James McArthur, Antolin Alcaraz, Ivan Ramis, and Roger Espinoza were signed for a combined total of under £10 million.
Martinez’s resignation was a huge blow to the club and the player exodus has already begun with Figueroa, Alcaraz, Franco Di Santo, Ronnie Stam and Albert Crusat all out of contract and loan signings Joel Robles, Angelo Henriquez and Paul Scharner all returning to their host clubs.
Wigan have several star players who are likely be targeted by Premier League clubs. McCarthy, Maloney, Kone and McManaman could all attract sizeable transfer fees if the club decided to release them.
The fans will be very disappointed with Martinez’s decision to leave, but he achieved miracles in the last four seasons with a Championship sized budget. For some fans it may take some time to appreciate the full magnitude of what he has achieved.
The new manager will have a rebuilding job on his hands, transfer funds will be available but the club will have to face a lengthy Championship campaign plus Europa League fixtures.
To say it’s been an emotionally charged season for Wigan Athletic is an understatement. The season reached a crescendo when the team defied the odds to win the FA Cup but only three days later they endured the disappointment of losing their Premier League status.
Following the defeat and relegation the critics were out in force, pointing to Wigan’s poor defensive record, lack of goals and Martinez’s weaknesses as a manager. But the truth is that very few clubs would have survived this season with the plague of injuries they endured. The catalogue of defensive injuries was catastrophic. Club captain Gary Caldwell was dogged by a troublesome hip injury, Alcaraz missed more than two thirds of the campaign, new recruit Ivan Ramis has been out since January, while Figueroa, Beausejour and Stam were all injured in the final stages of the season.
The FA Cup run inevitably had a detrimental impact on the league results with the team having to play four games in eleven days. Yet they still missed out on survival by only four points, becoming the first side ever to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season.
The club achieved remarkable things during their eight seasons in the Premier League and they have won many friends for their style of football. They have set a new record by being the only club to have appeared in every domestic cup competition, reached a Carling Cup Final, qualified for a European competition and won the FA Cup.
Dave Whelan has stated his desire to get back to the Premier League at the first attempt, but realistically given all the changes at the club, probably the best we can now hope for is a season of stability in the Championship.
* A shortened version of this piece appeared in When Saturday Comes but is reproduced here in full.