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Mar 9, 2013

Underdogs have their day at Goodison

The ambition has lasted a decade. The dream died in three minutes and 23 seconds. Perhaps for another season, perhaps for ever. David Moyes has made no secret of his desire to bring a trophy to Everton. He is no nearer after an afternoon to rank among the worst of his 11-year reign at Goodison Park.

Losing his first FA Cup tie, to a Shrewsbury side who were to be relegated from the Football League that season, was embarrassing. Defeat in his 50th, with a trip to Wembley the reward for the winners, was disastrous. Moyes' contract expires in the summer and, as Everton breathed their last in this season's FA Cup, any post-mortem has to reflect his culpability in their demise.

Superbly as Shaun Maloney played, emphatically as Maynor Figueroa headed in Wigan's opener, brilliantly as Callum McManaman and Jordi Gomez took their second and third in an extraordinary four-minute, three-goal salvo, Everton handed them their ticket for a first FA Cup semi-final in their history. They were uncharacteristically awful. "We can't complain," a candid Moyes said. "We weren't good enough on the day."

It was a match when everything unravelled for them. They have struggled against giant strikers like Oldham's Matt Smith and Aston Villa's Christian Benteke of late but it was still a surprise that Figueroa, a smaller defender, was allowed to head in the opener. Moyes had brought back his on-field lieutenant Phil Neville, with Darron Gibson unexpectedly demoted, but the decision backfired horribly. "I chose to pick Phil," Moyes said, depriving himself of an excuse by denying that the substitute Gibson was unable to start.

The Everton captain played the most incisive ball of the match: sadly for him, it split his own defence and sent McManaman clear for a beautifully cool finish. If passes from Neville to McManaman provided a throwback to England matches of the late 1990s, Everton were in no mood for nostalgia. Rather Neville looked yesterday's man and Moyes, of his own choice, may soon be.

There were boos for the 36-year-old when he was withdrawn at half-time. Further dissent followed when Marouane Fellaini, who had had been terrible, and Kevin Mirallas, Everton's sole threat, were substituted. "I just thought we were needing to try something else," Moyes said but, among a diminishing crowd, ungrateful individuals told the manager it was time to go. Another said that, in 40 years of supporting Everton, it was the first time he had left a game early. Indeed, Goodison Park was emptying long before the final whistle, blue seats outnumbering spectators in some parts of the ground.

Wigan's complete dominance was astonishing. It was an indictment of Everton and testament to them. "It is very unfair just to say Everton had a bad day," Roberto Martinez reflected. "When you are at Wigan, when you lose it is because you are Wigan and when you win it is because the opposition are poor."

Given his purist principles, victories are invariably vindication for the Spaniard but they are rarely as classy as this. "It was a complete performance," Martinez added. The paradox of Wigan, a team who can out-play some of the best teams and lose to some of the worst, continues. Seven days after a 4-0 home defeat to Liverpool that was notable for some disastrous defending, they thrashed Everton 3-0 with some lovely combination play. If the question is which Wigan will turn up, the impression was that Everton didn't, that these were imposters in blue shirts, lacking the tempo, urgency and resolve Moyes' team usually display. In the improbable event that there is a doppelganger for Fellaini anywhere, Everton fielded him: the Belgian was terrible.

So the sole Evertonian with grounds to celebrate was McManaman. "It's a dream come true," the Merseysider said, a distant relative of his namesake Steve. He has never started a Premier League game but has played a huge part in sending Wigan to Wembley. Injury limited him to a cameo, but it was an explosive one.

His goal, fine as it was, may not have been Wigan's best finish. Gomez's exquisite curler, Wigan's third goal in 203 seconds, might have been even better. "We always looked a threat going forward," Martinez said and, with their quick-fire treble, they showed the destructiveness of a top team rather than one of football's natural underdogs.

"For us to go to Wembley is a unique, historic moment," the Spaniard added. The town's rugby league team used to go to the national stadium on an annual basis. Now the football fans delighted in a triumph for their sport with chants of: "One team in Wigan." Sadly for Everton, there was only one team in this game.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Shaun Maloney. Whether or not Wigan survive, Maloney ought to be in the Premier League next season. The Scot has been in fine form of late and was outstanding. At 0-0, a shot was curled against the post. He offered an outlet throughout and tormented Seamus Coleman.

EVERTON VERDICT: Abject. They missed the injured Phil Jagielka in the centre of defence; truth be told, however, one man could not have compensated for all the problems elsewhere. Nikica Jelavic has now gone 806 minutes without a goal while Neville's error-riddled performance may signify the beginning of the end for the captain. Only Mirallas and his replacement Ross Barkley were lively.

WIGAN VERDICT: Terrific. Martinez made four changes and, on paper, fielded a much weaker team than Moyes. On the pitch, however, they excelled. With captain Gary Caldwell rested, Antolin Alcaraz looked assured on his first start for almost seven months. James McCarthy controlled the midfield and McManaman pushed his case to feature more in the Premier League.

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