Cardiff City 1 Wigan Athletic 2 match report: Ben Watson gives Wigan scent of Wembley
FA Cup holders take another Premier League scalp with winner coming from familiar source
It is not given to many managers to take over an FA Cup-winning team and Uwe Rösler is clearly determined to make the most of it. Having spent the whole 90 minutes in the technical area yesterday, cajoling his players and adjusting the tactics, he celebrated the final whistle and a deserved victory by clenching a jubilant fist towards the directors box and then rushed onto the pitch to congratulate every one of his team.
There was also, of course, a polite handshake for the beaten manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who may now be regretting having recommended the German to the owner of Brentford, where he did an excellent job before stepping up as replacement for Roberto Martinez last summer.
Rösler may have come late to the party but he has enjoyed it enormously in knocking out Milton Keynes Dons, Crystal Palace and now Cardiff. Whether the latter pair count as giants this season may be debatable, but they are of superior league status and the Championship side have slain them.
Yesterday, there was another winning goal from Ben Watson, the ginger midfielder who came on as a late substitute at Wembley last May to crush Manchester City. Here he drove in a superb 25-yard free-kick after Fraizer Campbell had brought Cardiff level and prompted their one convincing spell of the game.
Watson was one of five Cup-winners starting the game for the visitors, who made light of the absence of influential midfielders James McArthur and Nicky Powell. Rösler had started with last season’s three men at the back but was flexible enough to move to 4-2-3-1 later and his players worked tirelessly, closing down the Premier League side all over the pitch.
“I was very happy with the performance and the application,” their manager said. “We have had the hardest match programme in the country since last August but my players have shown fantastic qualities, and the willpower to come through games.” Because of the Europa League programme, this was Wigan’s 41st match of the season.
Rösler promised to attack and the holders did so from early on in a tie of changing fortunes that produced three goals and several changes of momentum even before the interval. Wigan were ahead in the 18th minute when Jordi Gomez, one of the Wembley survivors, won the ball back, took it to the byline and crossed to give Chris McCann – nominally one of the three centre-backs – a tap-in.
The visitors were the better side at that point but they were pegged back eight minutes later after some poor defending. Wilfried Zaha was crowded out as he tried to wriggle through and there were sufficient defenders in attendance to have cleared before Campbell drove a low shot past a possibly unsighted Ali Al Habsi for his eighth goal of the season and third in the Cup.
That got Cardiff going and a good combination between the impressive Norwegian Mats Daehli – one of three debutants – and Zaha led to Campbell heading the latter’s cross just too high. By half-time, however, Wigan were back in front, following a foul by the Spanish defender Juan Cala on Marc-Antoine Fortuné. Gomez touched the free-kick to Watson, whose 25-yarder flew past Cardiff’s poor imitation of a wall.
Cala headed against a post just before the interval but with Rösler moving to a conventional back-four, Cardiff found it hard to make further chances until the final 10 minutes, when central defenders Cala and Steven Caulker were sent into attack. Daehli had one shot deflected over the bar, and Zaha’s effort was beaten out by Al Habsi, who then saved well from substitute Craig Noone.
Home matches against Hull and Fulham look more crucial than ever if Cardiff are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. “There’s talent here and we’ve got to go out and play with no fear,” Solskjaer urged those who may be losing faith.
Cardiff City (4-1-3-2): Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Cala, Caulker, Taylor; Medel (Cowie, h-t); Daehli, Eikrem (Kim, 77) Zaha; Berget (Noone, 60) Campbell.
Wigan Athletic (3-4-1-2): Al-Habsi; Boyce, Ramis, McCann; Perch, Watson (McEachran, 57), Espinoza, Beausejour; Gomez (Crainey, 77); McManaman (McClean, 66), Fortuné.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Daehli (Cardiff City)
Match rating: 7/10
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