Smash and grab caps Martinez’s magical day

Manchester City 0 Wigan 1
Just the one goal but so many sub-plots to linger in the memory, especially if your name happens to be Roberto.

Let us start with Wigan, for it was deservedly their day: no parking of buses was required to get the better of the most expensively-assembled squad in English football history.

Let’s hear it for Latics chairman and owner Dave Whelan, the man whose leg was broken playing for Blackburn in the 1960 final. And Ben Watson who suffered an identical setback earlier this season but regained fitness just in time to come off the bench and head a last-minute winning goal.

Plaudits too to midfielder James McCarthy — Irish internationals with FA Cup winners’ medals are far and few these days — and the rest of his Wigan team-mates, all of whom rose to the occasion against opponents whose listlessness was personified by the plodding Yaya Toure.

But, above all, kudos to Roberto Martinez, the manager. The Spaniard will probably end up leading Wigan back into the Championship but this was at least proof that nice guys don’t always finish last. And don’t forget that Swansea, the other unexpected trophy collectors of the season, owe their Capital One Cup success to the seeds he planted there a just few years ago.

What, then, of Manchester City and Roberto Mancini? The Italian was subjected to a brutal post-match inquisition over his record as City manager, a post the world already knew had been freshly offered to Manuel Pellegrini, the current Malaga manager.

Three trophies in three seasons (four if you count the Community Shield but only Mancini does) is none too stellar given such an immense financial outlay.

Yet it still represents more than every single City manager since 1970 put together, a fact not lost on the majority of the supporters who were loudly singing his name at the start of the match.

And the Italian certainly did not instruct his employers to ‘get me Scott Sinclair at all costs’ this time last year before a title defence effectively ended the moment Robin van Persie listened to the little boy inside him and joined Manchester United instead.

How undignified to hear, on the eve of a cup final no less, that your employers had been busy behind your back courting your replacement. Afterwards, Mancini made it clear he was annoyed City had done next to nothing to quash the Pellegrini speculation. He had a point.

But it is difficult to feel too sorry for the losing Roberto. On December 19 2009 City’s Abu Dhabi owners did exactly the same to Mark Hughes, who learned of his fate minutes before a 4-3 victory over Sunderland that day. Mancini, of course, was the man they had already lined up to replace him. It is, as Martinez outlined with palpable relief that such questionable ethics do not yet affect him, merely an occupational hazard should you choose to work for a big club.

That Martinez out-performed him tactically, and with a small squad that had already been hit hard by injuries, will have done nothing to persuade the City hierarchy into an eleventh hour change of heart however.

With so many defenders unavailable it was no surprise he opted for three at the back and four midfielders in front of them, ensuring there would always be sufficient blockers in blue when City inevitably tried to jink and probe their way into the danger zones, although goalkeeper Joel Robles did have to make saves, most notably with a boot to deny Carlos Tevez.

Yet it was Martinez’s attacking strategy that was even more effective. Aroune Kone and Callum McManaman were the furthest forward, with Shaun Maloney roaming in support, but they did not exactly form a strike partnership. Indeed, it was debatable whether they could actually see each other so far were they apart. McManaman attacked down the right flank and Kone the left and it caused City no end of headaches.

McManaman was particularly impressive. Previously, the 22-year-old was known mainly for the reckless challenge that hospitalised Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara but on this occasion it was all about the ball. His desire and ability to take on an opponent and go past him was mesmerising, Gael Clichy the usual object of his torment but Pablo Zabaleta’s two yellow cards, in the 60th and 84th minutes, were both caused by him.

One first-half run took him all the way to Joe Hart at the foot of his near post. He promptly set off back from where he had come before veering off and finally launching a shot that was blocked by a defender. A pass to a colleague had been the better option for pretty much every moment but it was fascinating nonetheless. McManaman is already an England U20 international and although television cameras appeared to show Roy Hodgson nodding off at one point, the current custodian of a nation’s increasingly forlorn hopes surely cannot have failed to have taken note.

As had the nation with Martinez and Wigan. Not since 1988 when the Crazy Gang of Wimbledon overcame Liverpool had an underdog produced such an upset. But Wigan did so playing 21st Century football and that makes it a far bigger achievement. A shame, then, that they will probably be playing at Bournemouth and Doncaster next season as well as in Europa League destinations as yet unconfirmed.


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