London – Wigan owner Dave Whelan celebrated his moment of FA Cup final redemption by challenging his team to follow their stunning victory over Manchester City by upsetting the odds again with another great escape in the Premier League.
Ben Watson's stoppage-time header sealed Saturday's dramatic 1-0 win against 10-man City and clinched the first major silverware in unheralded Wigan's history.
But Roberto Martinez's team are still engaged in their annual battle to preserve their top-flight status and face a crunch clash at Arsenal on Tuesday before hosting Aston Villa on the final day of the season.
The Latics are three points from safety and that gap will become even more daunting if Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland have positive results on Sunday.
“If we go down it will be a disaster. There is no other word for it. We want to stay up,” Whelan said.
“We have two big games to go. The lads are deadly calm. They know they have some unfinished business and we are up for it.
“We are good enough to stay up. You have seen the fantastic performance we have given here and if we can do that against Arsenal and Villa we should have no problems staying up.”
Watching his Wigan underdogs cause the greatest Cup final upset since Wimbledon beat Liverpool in 1988 was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Whelan, who bought the club in 1995 when they were playing in the fourth tier at dilapidated Springfield Park in front of sparse crowds.
Whelan's own relationship with the FA Cup had been bittersweet until Saturday as his career was effectively ended by a broken leg suffered while playing for Blackburn against Wolves in the 1960
“When I first bought the club we had 1,800 people watching at Springfield Park, but now we get over 20,000 at the DW Stadium,” he said.
“This goes a long, long way to making up for my previous experience of the Cup final when I was carried off.
“I don't normally have much emotion or nerves, but when I went out there and you can hear crowd, it's just the same as 53 years ago. It's an unbelievable feeling.”
Wigan's triumph will also boost the reputation of Martinez, the urbane Spaniard seen as one of the favourites to replace David Moyes at Everton once he moves to Manchester United at the end of the season.
However, Whelan isn't sure that Martinez, who has already rejected offers from Liverpool and Aston Villa in the last two years, will see Everton as a club big enough to match his ambitions.
“Every season we get the same thing at the end. Someone is short of a manager and Roberto is going to fill it,” Whelan said.
“He is the master and gets every ounce out of his players.
“I know he will go to a big club in Europe sooner or later and Everton is a great club with fantastic supporters, but I don't think it's quite big enough for him.”
In the kind of romantic coincidence the Cup specialises in, Whelan wasn't the only member of the Wigan party taking the victory over City as a cathartic moment after an injury nightmare.
Match-winner Watson had spent much of the season going through a gruelling rehabilitation after breaking his leg against Liverpool in November and the midfielder's second half substitute appearance at Wembley was only his third since returning to fitness.
“To score a winner in an FA Cup final is a dream come true,” Watson said.
“When you've got a broken leg you never think you will have a moment like this. But I worked hard and was surrounded by some very good people who have helped me get through it and this is my reward.
“I've gone from the worst moment of my career to the best in six months. It's a great feeling.” – Sapa-AFP