BEN Watson was almost lost for words as he reflected on his transformation from broken leg victim to FA Cup hero.
The Wigan midfielder only returned to action last weekend after almost six months out and did not make the starting line-up for Saturday’s FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley.
But Watson got his chance in the 81st minute and ten minutes later rose highest to head Shaun Maloney’s corner-kick into the top corner of Joe Hart’s goal and seal a shock 1-0 victory.
Asked to consider his new position in British football folklore, the 27-year-old could only shake his head and laugh at the improbability of it all. But Watson did reveal the opportunity to appear in an FA Cup final had spurred him on in his recovery from the broken leg he suffered in a challenge with Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling in November.
The midfielder said: “It was a long six months but I worked hard and was around some good people. They helped get me through those six months and this is a dream come true.
“When we got to the final that was always my aim, can I get fit for the final? I did that, I worked hard. It definitely makes it sweeter. Breaking your leg to scoring the winner in an FA Cup final. It’s crazy. I hope I never come down from this high.”
Wigan’s victory over last season’s Premier League champions was far from a smash-and-grab raid. Although Latics goalkeeper Joel Robles made three very good saves, Wigan caused the City defence no end of problems, with Callum McManaman coming close to opening the scoring on a number of occasions.
The forward twice forced Pablo Zabaleta into fouls that earned the City full-back a late red card and provided the impetus for Wigan to clinch their first major trophy.
Watson said: “No one thought we’d win but the lads believed, the fans believed and we’ve done it.
“We were under no pressure, Man City were under pressure to bring silverware back home. We knew we could go out there, enjoy the game, it’s not like you’re going to be in an FA Cup final every year in your career. I thought we controlled the game. We were creating good chances and I thought we were definitely going to win. The lads out there, from the goalkeeper through to the forwards, everyone, was fantastic.
“I just wanted to get on the pitch. Once I got on there and they went down to ten men, I knew this was our chance to win an FA Cup.”
The champagne is on ice, though, with Wigan facing a desperate fight to secure their Barclays Premier League future this week.
Instead, the Latics toasted their success with Irn-Bru – a favourite of their Scottish contingent, which included Shaun Maloney, James McArthur, James McCarthy, Gary Caldwell, who was an unused sub but, as club captain, lifted the trophy, and Fraser Fyvie, the former Aberdeen youngster who also remained on the bench – ahead of key fixtures against Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Watson highlighted the role played by manager Roberto Martinez, saying: “He’s a positive man, so calm, the sort of guy you need in these situations. Hopefully we can pull it off for him again.”
McCarthy, the Scottish-born Republic of Ireland international who moved to Wigan from Hamilton Accies in 2009, hailed the victory as a dream come true for him and described Martinez as a “tactical genius”. He said: “It’s an unbelievable achievement. 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.”
Maloney said of their triumph: “Considering the size of the club, it’s incredible. For Ben to score the winner after the season he’s had, it’s amazing for him.” And on Martinez, he said: “Tactically, he’s as good a manager as we could have asked for.”
With David Moyes leaving Everton for Old Trafford, Martinez has been strongly linked with a move to Goodison Park. But Wigan chairman Dave Whelan thinks the Spaniard will remain at the club next season. “Roberto will make his own mind up. Roberto consistently says ‘I love Wigan, I will stay with Wigan’,” Whelan said. “When the time comes he will leave for a big club, I have no doubt about that. But I think he might just stay with Wigan.”
On Wigan’s two “massive games” coming up, Whelan added: “The boys are dedicated to the massive task of keeping Wigan in the Premier League. The big fight is to stay up.”