It will be remembered as one of the great FA Cup final upsets of modern times and, for Roberto Mancini, possibly the end game.
Wigan Athletic had the FA Cup in their possession and this was no smash-and-grab victory. Roberto Martínez's team had been superb and Ben Watson's dramatic stoppage-time winner automatically takes its place as the greatest moment of an eccentric success story.
Wigan, to put it into context, had never gone beyond the quarter-finals until this season. They can now reflect on the first major piece of silverware in their history and, in the process, they had beaten possibly the most financially endowed team on the planet. It is the kind of story that could be turned into a movie and, despite their harrowing disappointment, it was noticeable how City's supporters applauded the victorious team.
Watson had entered the pitch as an 81st-minute substitute shortly before Pablo Zabaleta added his name to the short list of footballers who have been shown a red card in an FA Cup final. Already booked for taking down Shaun Maloney in full flight, the Argentinian's challenge on Callum McManaman was asking for trouble and Wigan went for the kill. Watson was decisive as Maloney swung over a corner from the right and his header flashed past Joe Hart.
Mancini had woken to headlines about the club trying to appoint the Málaga manager, Manuel Pellegrini, behind his back. This was a goal, unfortunately for him, that may accelerate the process.
Wigan played at times as if affronted by the suggestion this would be one of the more straightforward finals. Maloney, such an elusive, clever opponent, was excellent, finding space and driving forward with the ball.
He, more than anyone, took the game to City in the opening stages. Yet he was not alone. McManaman showed again that he deserves much more than being synonymous with the X-rated challenge. Roger Espinoza, the Honduran left-back, was always willing to break forward to supplement the attack. Jordi Gómez played with poise and great football intelligence.
For long spells, certainly in the first half, City found it difficult to fathom out the unorthodox 3-4-1-2 formation that confronted them. This was a Wigan team playing not with a regulation centre-forward but two players, McManaman and Arouna Koné, who started in wide positions and then drifted inside.
McManaman will wince when he sees the replays of that early chance, from Koné's superb through ball, when he should have let fly with his right boot but took another touch, cut inside and ended up curling a left-foot shot harmlessly wide. Another chance for the same player, after a jinking run, ended with him shooting straight at Zabaleta, just as Wembley was wondering whether it was going to witness a modern-day Ricky Villa moment.
They had begun the game in the manner of a team that did not seem to appreciate why they were perceived as virtual no-hopers. City threatened only sporadically in the first half and were probably grateful that their opponents could not find a suitable finish to go with some of their build-up play.
Yet that is not to say Mancini's team were incapable of creating chances of their own. Joel Robles, Wigan's goalkeeper, had to save early on from Yaya Touré after Carlos Tevez's free-kick struck the wall and rebounded to the midfielder. Robles also palmed away a shot from Samir Nasri and there was an even better stop to deny Tevez just before the half-hour. Tevez, running on to David Silva's cross, caught his shot well but the goalkeeper jutted out his right foot and the ball ricocheted just over the crossbar.
At half-time the ovation from Wigan's end spoke volumes for how the game had gone. The sky blue sections, in contrast, may have been slightly alarmed at the inability of their team to make the gulf in quality show. Their loudest moments had come in defending the man they may shortly have to add to the club's extensive list of ex-managers. Mancini's name was chanted as a protest to the watching City directors. Other songs were more personal, making it clear Pellegrini was unwelcome in their part of Manchester. More than anything, there was a sense of profound dismay that such a damaging story could possibly sneak out on the eve of an FA Cup final.
The second half began with City playing at an increased tempo and Sergio Agüero trying to squeeze Tevez's cross inside the near post. Yet there were still moments of unusual carelessness from Mancini's team. Silva, struggling to have an impact, was slow to react when Zabaleta's centre went across the penalty area. Shortly afterwards, the Spaniard had a chance to float the ball into the penalty area, only to overhit his free-kick and send it out for a goal-kick. Agüero tried a dive to win a penalty from Paul Scharner's challenge and there was the clear sense that he would have not resorted to this kind of snideness if his team were functioning with more panache.
Amid the outpouring of support for Mancini, there may also have been some City supporters quietly wondering about his substitutions, too. Nasri, who had started the game well, was replaced by James Milner. Tevez had probably been City's most dangerous player and was unimpressed, to say the least, when his number flashed up midway through the second half. Mancini had brought on another midfielder, Jack Rodwell, with Silva pushing further forward. But it had little effect, and it was Martínez's men who had the last word.
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image: © Mick Baker