Wigan Athletic FC manager Roberto Martinez savoured a momentous occasion that bore all the hallmarks of a true underdog story after his unfancied side vanquished Manchester City FC 1-0 at Wembley to claim the FA Cup for the first time in their 81-year history on Saturday.
The perennial relegation candidates, three points adrift of Premier League survival with two games to play, had failed to find the net against City in their previous seven meetings in all competitions. However, fuelled by the subtle arts of fearless, one-touch football and rugged endeavour, Wigan made light of such statistics and few could argue Ben Watson's added-time winner was not richly merited, nor the place it earned in next season's UEFA Europa League, which will be the club's first European campaign.
The Lancashire outfit looked poised to harbour a host of regrets, however, after Callum McManaman spurned two clear-cut opportunities in a dashing first-half display. "At the break we were really down because we played well and when you are playing a top team, you need to take your chances.
"These players don't know anything other than to keep fighting," said Martinez, whose team seized the initiative following Pablo Zabaleta's 84th-minute red card. "At that time I was thinking about extra time and how to use our man advantage. You could see the goal coming – the performance was magnificent, we deserved it."
Since taking charge in 2009, the Spaniard's carefully nurtured reputation for eye-catching, enterprising football has continually permeated through to the players on the pitch. "When you are a football club you dream of playing at Wembley, and today we saw the underdogs play with incredible bravery, incredible belief and they defied the odds again. That's the FA Cup," added the 39-year-old tactician, who made 187 appearances during his six-year association with Wigan as a player.
"The FA Cup is such a special tournament, and everyone deserves to feel proud today. 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."
The match-winner Watson, whose belligerent header had Joe Hart's net bulging just nine minutes after coming on as a substitute, said: "I just wanted to get on the pitch. Once I got on there, they went down to ten men and we knew that this was our chance, our chance to win an FA Cup."
"It's an unbelievable achievement," added Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy. "I'm speechless to be honest. It's a dream come true, it's what you dream of as a kid. I think the gaffer is a tactical genius. It's down to his tactics what we've done."
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