Carling Cup Final (League Cup)

Wigan Athletic gained membership of the Football League in 1978 and played their first game as a League club on 12 August 1978 away to Tranmere Rovers in a League Cup tie – which ended 1-1.

Over the years Latics’ fortunes have varied in the competition, but it could never be said the club had made any significant impression.  With promotion to the Premiership in 2005 it seemed that survival in that division would be the absolute priority, and no-one expected any sort of cup run when the team played their first Carling Cup tie of the season against AFC Bournemouth on 20 September 2005.  A late goal by Jason Roberts saw what was effectively reserve Latics team through to the next round.

Watford, Newcastle and Bolton all came to the JJB Stadium and left empty handed as Latics, surprisingly made their way to the semi-final and a two-legged tie against Arsenal.  In a thrilling game at the JJB Stadium a goal by Paul Scharner gave Latics the advantage for the return at Highbury.  Some bizarre refereeing decisions meant that the Gunners pulled back two goals, until in the dying seconds Jason Roberts bustled his way through the home defence to give Latics an away goal, and sealed a place for the first time ever in a major final.

Jason Roberts scores the goal that takes Latics to Cardiff
The final was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday 26 February 2006, against opponents Manchester United who were facing the prospect of finishing the season empty-handed – being a long way behind Chelsea in the Premiership, and having already exited the Champions League and FA Cup.  Latics had already faced United in December at Old Trafford – and lost 4-0.

19.   Raymond van der SAR 2. Gary NEVILLE 6. Wes BROWN 5. Rio FERDINAND 27. Mikael SILVESTRE 7. Cristiano RONALDO 22. John O’SHEA 11. Ryan GIGGS 13. Ji-Sun PARK 9. Louis SAHA 8. Wayne ROONEY Substitutes 23. Kieran RICHARDSON (for 7) 15. Nemanja VIDIC (for 6) 3. Patrice EVRA (for 27)
12. Mike POLLITT 2. Pascal CHIMBONDA 16. Arjan De ZEEUW 6. Stephane HENCHOZ 26. Leighton BAINES 21. Jimmy BULLARD 11. Graham KAVANAGH 18. Paul SCHARNER 20. Gary TEALE 7. Henri CAMARA 30. Jason ROBERTS Substitutes 1. John FILAN (for 12) 10. Lee McCULLOCH (for 6) 23. Reto ZIEGLER (for 11)
Referee Alan WILEY (Staffordshire)
Attendance 66,866

Latics took about 25,000 fans to the stadium, and the excitement was tangible.  Whether “old stager” or “Johnny-come-lately” everyone was caught up in the Cup fever.  The atmosphere was enhanced by the retractable roof being closed, giving a strange and novel atmosphere.

Some people were even interviewed by the BBC World Service prior to the game!!

As for the match itself, Latics of course started as underdogs, and the cause wasn’t helped when goalkeeper Mike Pollitt pulled a hamstring after only three minutes after picked up an innocuous ball. The tone of the game was then set as Wayne Rooney headed against the bar while John Filan was warming up.

Mike Pollitt is forced to leave the game after only a few minutes
Just after the half hour mark United’s pressure paid off as van der Sar kicked long downfield to Saha’s head.  Arjan De Zeeuw and Pascal Chimbonda collided, leaving Wayne Rooney one on one on John Filan.  And as we all know Rooney doesn’t usually miss those.

With the lead only at a single goal at half-time Latics were not yet beaten, and Henri Camara had a shot soon after the restart that could have changed things.  But as Latics were starting to get back into the game a period of 7 minutes saw a gallant attempt turn to damage limitation.

Ryan Giggs picked his way past a couple of tackles in midfield before sweeping a pass out to Ronaldo, who in turn laid the ball into Neville’s overlapping run.  Neville’s cross was met by Saha and although Filan saved his first effort, the Frenchman converted at the second attempt.

Gary Teale hurdles Ji-Sun Park
Two minutes later Henchoz lost the ball to Saha who passed the ball across for Ronaldo to score.  And United then made it three goals in seven minutes when a Ryan Giggs free kick, won by Saha, went to Ferdinand who headed towards Wayne Rooney who span and scored United’s fourth.

4-0 down with half-an-hour still to play, even the most faithful Latics fan feared even worse, but we battened down the hatches and survived without further loss.  So ended the most important day in the club’s history, our first major final.  Certainly the result was disappointing.  We had perhaps expected to lose, but by such a margin was disappointing.  But we have been there, and who knows what the future will bring.  We were after all, only 90 minutes away from Europe!!

The photographs on this page are reproduced by kind permission of Paul Simpson.  They must not be reproduced elsewhere without his permission.