LONDON Wigan Athletic from a town where rugby usually steals the show claimed one of the greatest FA Cup final upsets of all time when they scored a dramatic 1-0 win over highly-fancied Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday.
The winning goal, headed home on the stroke of full-time by substitute Ben Watson, gave the underdogs a thoroughly deserved victory in one of the most memorable finals for years.
Wigan, still threatened with relegation from the Premier League, played better throughout and thoroughly deserved to win against a largely listless City side who had defender Pablo Zabaleta sent off for a second yellow card in the 84th minute.
He became only the third player red-carded in the 142-year history of the competition following Kevin Moran of Manchester United in 1985 and Jose Antonio Reyes of Arsenal in 2005.
His first yellow came in the 60th minute for a clumsy challenge on the outstanding Callum McManaman and the second followed a late, sliding challenge on the same player leaving referee Andre Marriner with no option but to dismiss him.
It was Wigan's first FA Cup final since they were formed in 1932 and they became the 42nd winners of the trophy when Watson, who had only been on the field for nine minutes and had broken his leg earlier this season, powered an unstoppable header past goalkeeper Joe Hart from a Shaun Maloney corner.
Wigan's win was the biggest upset since Wimbledon beat Liverpool to become the last first-time winners in 1988 and represented a personal triumph for chairman Dave Whelan who broke his leg playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 final.
"We didn't win by luck - it was no accident, we won it by hard work and we deserved it, from start to finish it was an incredible performance," Wigan manager Roberto Martinez told reporters.
"It is a shame the final is not the final game of the season because we still have two matches to play to stay up but it is such a such a special tournament, and everyone deserves to feel proud today."
An emotional Whelan added: "Its absolutely fantastic. I was not sure we could win this but then I had a dream and didn't want to tell anyone. I thought we would get to the final and win 1-0 and it is repayment for me breaking my leg in 1960."
Wigan now face two vital Premier League matches at Arsenal and home to Aston Villa to save themselves from relegation, but will become the first team to win the FA Cup and go down in the same season if they fail to stay up.
Five clubs, including Manchester City in 1926, got to the final and were relegated in the same season and all lost.
"We've got two big games to come and we wanted to conserve energy. But how we are going to cope on Tuesday against Arsenal after the physical and emotional drains on us today, I just don't know," Martinez told reporters.
"Everyone wrote us off before the game, but we were following a dream. You cannot describe the feeling at the moment. My players faced adversity and played with a smile. I am so proud of them."
City manager Roberto Mancini, showing an unusual nervousness in his news conference, was repeatedly asked about speculation linking Manuel Pellegrini of Malaga with his job and whether the Italian thought he was about to get sacked.
"You have been talking about this for the last six months," he said.
"This did not happen last season when Manchester United failed to win the league or the FA Cup. Why you write this is your decision.
"I am disappointed we lost. We conceded a goal in the last seconds in a game and we didn't play very well but we didn't deserve to lose.
"We had two or three incredible chances but in the end we didn't play like we usually do. If anyone else had to win I am pleased it is Roberto Martinez, he has done a tremendous job at Wigan."
City, FA Cup winners in 2011 and Premier League champions last season, were the overwhelming favourites to win the famous trophy for the sixth time but were largely outplayed against the underdogs who put their erratic league form behind them.
City had the first attempt at goal when Yaya Toure brought a low diving save from Joel Robles following a Carlos Tevez free-kick in the fourth minute, but Wigan unexpectedly took control of the game with the Manchester side playing into their hands.
Instead of using their width, City attempted to build attacks though the middle and made little progress against Wigan's back three of Paul Scharner, Antolin Alcaraz and Emmerson Boyce blocking their progress.
But Wigan, who were thrashed 4-0 by Manchester United in the 2006 League Cup final in their only other showpiece appearance, did play the ball wide with Callum McManaman on the right and Roger Espinoza on the left creating space and opportunities.
Indeed, if McManaman had shown slightly more composure in the ninth minute he could have put Wigan ahead.
In the clear after an exchange of passes with Arouna Kone, he attempted to cut inside but dwelled too long on the ball before sweeping a curling shot wide of Hart's right-hand post.
Hart's selection was the main talking point before kickoff when he was named in the starting lineup rather than Romanian Costel Pantilimon, who had played in all of City's FA Cup matches on the way to the final but said in the build-up that he planned to leave the club at the end of the season.
However, the best saves of the first half came from Wigan's Robles, first when he stuck out a leg to block what seemed a certain goal-bound strike from Tevez after 29 minutes, and then keeping out a shot by Samir Nasri just before halftime.
City began to play with more pace and dynamism after the break, largely because James Milner had replaced the subdued French midfielder Nasri after 54 minutes and began to have an impact by making some inroads on the right.
But with Toure, who scored the winner in the 2011 final, playing deep for long periods and not really threatening the Wigan defence until the later stages, City never seriously looked like making a breakthrough.
Wigan had the same problem at the other end. Despite some swift, attractive build-up play, they rarely troubled Hart until the dramatic finale on the stroke of 90 minutes when the England keeper was powerless to stop the ball flying past him.
Even if they had lost Wigan knew they would play in the Europa League next season because City had already clinched a Champions League spot but this Cup win could now galvanise them to extend their Premier League status for a ninth season.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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