WIGAN ATHLETIC 2
It was Wigan Athletic’s first trip to the national stadium since May 2000’s Division Two play-off final against Gillingham and goals from Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman made it a memorable one.
Maloney’s unmarked volley latching onto Arouna Kone’s cross gave Latics the lead in the first half and after a brief period of Millwall pressure in the second half, McManaman rounded goalkeeper David Forde to seal the club’s place in the most famous domestic club final in the world.
Appropriately, the last team Latics beat at Wembley Stadium was Millwall 14 years earlier in the Auto Windscreens Shield final, the last piece of cup silverware won by the club.
Good omens were being set and a brief look at the previous two meetings against the Lions show that those omens were apparent before the semi-final kicked off, with Latics winning both games 2-0 during the 2004/05 season.
The anticipation before kick-off for both sets of supporters was clear to hear and see but Latics looked to be thriving under the pressure in the first half, as the front three of McManaman, Maloney and Kone played with freedom.
Latics’ positive start was marked early on when McManaman’s quick thinking opened up an opportunity to shoot on the edge of the area, but Forde was equal to the 22-year-old’s shot as he tipped the ball away for a corner.
On top and looking for a break-through, Latics needed a piece of magic and it arrived in the form of Kone and Maloney.
Battling hard to win the ball just inside his own half, Kone brought it under control despite battling with Millwall midfielders and then began his run down the right side.
As the Lions’ defenders began to form a pack around the Ivorian forward, he lifted up his head and spotted an unmarked Maloney running into the centre behind Alan Dunne.
Kone clipped the ball over and around the back of Millwall’s defence as Maloney took it first time to side foot volley the ball underneath Forde, becoming the first Latics player to score at Wembley since Stuart Barlow’s penalty against Gillingham in 2000.
Latics continued to press in the first half and thrived off the buoyancy of the crowd, who almost saw a second goal when Jordi Gomez forced Forde into another sprawling save from the edge of the area.
During the second half the theme of decisive passes through the Millwall defence continued, but the Lions managed to muster a period of their own pressure, with the best chance from Mark Beevers header narrowly bouncing over Latics’ crossbar off the leg of Paul Scharner.
Millwall’s aerial threat seemed to be their only likely way through, but Ali Al Habsi (pictured) was doing his best to nullify the threat as he swatted crosses away from the corners of his goal.
McManaman continued his personal duel with Forde at the other end and came close to doubling the lead when he teased Millwall down the left side before cutting back at the by-line and firing wide from a narrow angle.
As another spell of Millwall pressure looked to be mounting, a headed clearance from Gomez on the edge of his own area sparked off the move that would see Latics make the step ever close to the FA Cup final.
The Spaniard’s header found Kone who made ground down the left before cutting inside and laying the ball into the path of Maloney in the middle.
Maloney stumbled as he advanced but luckily for him Gomez was in convoy and took control himself having made a gut-busting run from the edge of his own area.
Time seemingly stood still as the 28-year-old plotted his next move.
McManaman was lurking on the edge of Millwall’s area waiting for Gomez to thread the ball through the eye of a needle between three defenders, on doing so McManaman burst into life, rounding Forde and sliding the ball into an empty goal, cue wild celebrations.
A place in the club’s first ever FA Cup final was 12 minutes away, but as the clock ran down nerves inside Wembley only grew as the realisation began to kick in.
Before full time Roberto Martinez appropriately substituted McManaman to give the second goal scorer the opportunity to receive a standing ovation as he was replaced by Angelo Henriquez.
Four minutes of added time ticked over and with a final blow of referee Michael Oliver’s whistle Latics were through to the FA Cup final for the first time in their 81-year history.
Millwall: Forde, Dunne, Shittu, Lowry, Henry, Beevers, Taylor, Keogh (Batt 89), Smith (Hulse 67), Abdou (Trotter 72), St.Ledger
Latics: Al Habsi, Kone, Alcaraz, McCarthy, Maloney, Gomez, McManaman (Henriquez 89), Boyce, Beausejour (McArthur 60), Figueroa, Scharner
“The fans were a different class and they made themselves heard over the Millwall fans, it was a dream come true to play in front of such support.
“It’s something you dream of as a young kid to go and play in a stadium like that and I’m really proud to have achieved that with this club.
“It’s a huge thing for the club and everybody deserves this.”
“I went into the fans at the end and I was looking for the youngest supporter that came to the game and I gave them my gloves.
“For such young supporters to travel all the way from Wigan to London is unbelievable and I just wanted to give one of them something that they will make them remember this game forever.”
Chief Executive Jonathan Jackson also praises the supporters:
“The supporters were fantastic.
“We’re only a small town and to have that many fans at Wembley on a Saturday evening with travel not being easy is fantastic.
“The club is thankful for every single supporter that came to the game and you could hear what it meant to them and you could see the smiles on everyone’s faces.”
“It was an excellent day and I think we really deserved it and everyone who watched us will be able to see that.”
“Everybody had high concentration levels and coming into the game as a sub meant that I had to match the other players.
“The focus of the players is the reason why we got the clean sheet, everyone worked until the very last minute and we limited their chances.”
The concluding part of our FA Cup feature will be available on the website on Thursday as we run-through our momentous cup win.