Wigan Athletic reached the first FA Cup final in their 81-year history, while for Millwall the disappointment was less in their defeat than in the poor behaviour of a small number of fans.
FA Cup: Wigan Athletic enter final but unruly fans make it worse for Millwall
LONDON // As fans at one end of Wembley Stadium celebrated, at the other they slunk away in shame.
Wigan Athletic reached the first FA Cup final in their 81-year history, while for Millwall the disappointment was less in their defeat than in the reprehensible behaviour of a small number of their fans, who once again disgraced the club.
There had been some boorishness on the London Underground on the way to Wembley, Millwall fans intimidating other passengers and the unpleasantness – albeit from a minority – continued throughout the game. At least one stricken fan had to be carried away by stewards while children could be seen sobbing.
The worst of the violence came after the second goal, at least 30 fans going toe-to-toe, haymakers flailing to booing from the rest of the stadium, until police armed with truncheons waded in.
For those who have done so much to try to rehabilitate the image of the club after the hooligan days of the 1980s, the trouble must have been sickening.
The Millwall manager Kenny Jackett said he had not been aware of the incidents in the stands and would need time to fully process what had happened.
“I would need some time and to see the incidents to express an opinion,” he said. “If crowd trouble is going to continually be brought up with Millwall, that will hold us back. I haven’t seen the images but if [reports of the violence and pictures of terrified children] are true then I’m very, very sorry.”
Trafalgar Square was sealed off to try to deter Millwall fans tempted to attack the benefit cuts protesters, former miners and anarchists gathering there to mark the death of the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher tomorrow.
At the other end of the stadium the atmosphere could hardly have been more different. “1-0 to the Empty Seats” chanted Wigan fans after they had taken the lead, a neat riposte to those who had criticised them for having to hand back 10,000 tickets from their allocation, unsold.
What the mockery failed to take into account is that 22,000 were sold, a perfectly reasonable amount for a club who, when manager Roberto Martinez joined them 18 years ago as a player, attracted average gates of only around 2,000.
It might also, of course, have helped ticket sales if the game had not kicked off too late for anybody to catch the last train back to Wigan from London afterwards.
Those who did make the journey from the north-west saw their team reach their first FA Cup final – and almost certainly Europa League qualification – with a victory that rarely seemed in doubt once Shaun Maloney had put them ahead midway through the first half.
Callum McManaman had already drawn one fine save from David Forde when Arouna Kone, with a combination of strength and skill, developed space for a cross, and chipped a ball over Jack Smith for Maloney to volley crisply home.
Millwall battled but never looked to have the cutting edge to test a Wigan side that controlled possession and never looked anything but the better side.
The closest they came to an equaliser stemmed from a freakish ricochet, Mark Beevers meeting Shane Lowry’s cross with a firm header that was probably heading wide when it hit Maynor Figueroa and looped up onto the roof of the net.
Kone, in particular, excelled. Martinez had described Wigan as “blessed” when he signed the African frontman from Sevilla for £3 million (Dh16.8m) in August and it is easy to see why.
The Ivory Coast international did not extend his run of scoring in six consecutive games but he was still the focal point of the side, moving with intelligence and purpose, troubling Millwall with both his physique and his technical ability.
McManaman, too, showed signs of his promise, despite being on the receiving end of some enthusiastic tackling; karma, Newcastle United supporters may say, for his horror challenge on Massadio Haidara last month.
He sealed the win with 12 minutes remaining, moving on to Jordi Gomez’s through-ball after a flowing break initiated by Kone and carried on by James McCarthy’s run, evading Forde and rolling the ball into an empty net.
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