If you ever thought Wigan Athletic would make an FA Cup final, I reckon a few of us would have laughed. In our 81 year history we have only ever previously reached the quarter finals, so why would that change?
Yet this year it has. A good draw and a team which has found its best form in the cup has strolled to the final. They made it look effortless against Everton, this time out Millwall posed a different opposition, and we overcame them.
The first half was a credit to Roberto Martinez’s footballing philosophy. Get the ball down, pass it around and keep hold of it. From the first minute we held onto it, and Millwall seemed willing to oblige us our time on the ball.
That was the wrong thing to do, as it proved when Shaun Maloney was able to find the space and latch onto that wonderful ball over the top from Arouna Kone. That move was Premier League standard, and you have to wonder why it hasn’t happened all season. Yet Kone is now finding his feet, and hitting top form at just the right time.
For me it was the Ivorian who made the difference. He may not have been the most influential player on the pitch; that right goes to an inspired Shaun Maloney. Yet Kone pulled the Millwall defence all over the show, leaving the space to allow Maloney time and space on the ball to pick his passes.
It was in our new 4-4-1-1 formation. It is still intertwined with our 3-4-3 fomation; when we need to defend Maynor Figueora drops in the back three and Jean Beausejour becomes a wingback. The change, to arguably a more attacking formation, has been due to two changes which were shown against Millwall.
The introduction of Callum McManaman, is one of the changes, we now have a right winger who can cause trouble on that side, beat his man and able to whip the ball into the box. His goal at the weekend shows the presence of mind that the young man has, and the composure to finish was excellent.
The other change is the dropping of Gary Caldwell. Unfortunately for the Scottish International, what he makes up for in his technical ability, he loses in his lack of pace. The defender has lost that extra yard to be able to catch up with most strikers, and that cost us in the middle part of the season. The return of Antolin Alcaraz along with Paul Scharner has allowed us to go to a back four.
The two defenders have so far shown a great understanding, forming a solid partnership. The main reason being one of them is a technical intercepting defender who reads the game (Antolin), the other is a no nonsense tackling, heading and general ‘you ain’t going to beat me’ defender (Scharner). It’s a lovely combination and one that I think has shone through in recent games.
The game then lived up to its hype and expectations. Wigan fans will enjoy another day in London in May. The game to be played on the 11th will see Latics face the other Northern team Manchester City to be crown FA Cup Champions. The one good thing about facing City, is that it will mean Wigan are now more than likely to gain European football; unless City drop out of the Champions League spots.
So after our FA Cup success we have over a month and five games to secure our Premier League survival. If we do that, then we can all enjoy the final.