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Carlos Tevez struck a stunning late winner as Manchester City snatched a 1-0 victory in their FA Cup final dress rehearsal with relegation-threatened Wigan.
The visitors had looked the better side for large periods of the match but failed to take a number of chances.
Tevez made them pay eight minutes from time as he weaved his way into the area and fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. It was his eighth goal in nine games and left Wigan in the bottom three rueing the near misses from Franco di Santo, Arouna Kone and Shaun Maloney which threatened an unexpected win. Wigan may be fortunate to catch City, who cut Manchester United's lead at the top to 13 points, in such underwhelming form when they meet again at Wembley next month.
The first half was rather low key as both sides returned to league action after their emotionally and physically-draining semi-final victories at the weekend. City manager Roberto Mancini made five changes, but they were all defensive, and the attacking big guns who retained their places - Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero and Tevez - were all below par. England goalkeeper Joe Hart returned after being left out in favour of Costel Pantilimon at Wembley and produced the best moment of the first half with a fine save from Di Santo. He was Wigan's one outfield change, taking over from semi-final star Callum McManaman, while the visitors also made a goalkeeping alteration with Joel Robles replacing Ali Al Habsi.
Wigan started confidently, stroking the ball around neatly but without great penetration. They won two corners inside the first four minutes, but failed to capitalise. City right-back Micah Richards, making his first appearance since October in a revamped back four in which only Vincent Kompany survived from Sunday, was welcomed back with a kick in the face from Jean Beausejour. That gave City a free-kick outside the Wigan area which Aleksandar Kolarov flashed wide. Aguero shot across goal and failed to win a free-kick outside the area, but other than that there were few chances in the opening 30 minutes.
There then followed a flurry of activity as Wigan produced a sparkling move with Kone bursting forward and Maloney backheeling into the path of Di Santo. The Argentine did brilliantly to jink round two defenders and open his body to shoot but Hart parried low to his left. City raced upfield in response but Aguero failed to get a touch on Tevez's dangerous low cross. Di Santo was then felled on the edge of the City area on another counter-attack but Maloney shot straight at Hart. A Kolarov cross gave Robles an awkward moment, but it was not until the second period that the game's intensity began to pick up.
City survived a couple of scares soon after the restart as first Maloney wrongfooted Richards and beat Hart with a shot from a tight angle only for Joleon Lescott to clear off the line. A slick move then saw Di Santo find space on the left and his cross for Kone was an inviting one, but Kompany produced a fine challenge to deny the Ivorian a shot. City had tried to freshen up their attack by sending on Edin Dzeko for Aguero at half-time and James Milner soon joined him for Javi Garcia. The Spaniard's exit ended a brief experiment with him at the heart of a back three which started straight after the break.
But it was Wigan who continued to dominate possession and play the better football, although Milner soon got involved with a run to the byline. Nasri produced a fine piece of skill in the centre circle to release Tevez, but Wigan were determined in defence and Emmerson Boyce ensured the attack fizzled out. McManaman entered the fray in the 68th minute for Di Santo and cut inside to create an opening for himself in the box but shot tamely at Hart.
Dzeko turned nicely inside the box from a Toure pass but Robles was off his line quickly to block his shot. Wigan appeared to go close again when Paul Scharner headed against the bar from a free-kick but the flag had been raised for offside.
After that near miss, heartbreak followed for Wigan as Tevez struck a typically sublime winner. The Argentine turned away from two defenders on the edge of the area and jinked past a third before curling a shot into the top corner. Wigan's spirit was broken, and one of their valuable games in hand had slipped away.
Tevez had another opportunity from an injury-time free-kick but shot wide.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini: “Wigan played very well tonight and whenever we play them, it is always a very difficult game. For 60 minutes they were the better team but after that, we improved and created three or four chances to score. But credit to Wigan. They play good football and have a very good manager in Roberto Martinez – for this reason, I believe they will stay up.”
“Micah [Richards] played well for 70 minutes but then he tired which is only natural after six months out. He has to continue to work hard in training because he’s been out for a long time and it takes time to build stamina and fitness up again but I was pleased with his performance. Carlos also did very well, worked hard and scored a very good goal so I am happy for him.”
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "That defeat is really hard to take because at this moment of the season, points are vitally important.
"How well we performed was outstanding. I don’t think for one moment we deserved to draw the game, never mind to lose it. We were very sharp and had very open opportunities to score but you have to take those opportunities. I don’t think there are many teams that will come here that will limit City to two shots on target.
"We were very unfortunate. Our performance was as good as it gets. We haven’t scored and that is hard to explain. We had three or four chances and two of them were really open. We didn't score and probably that’s the difference. I couldn’t be prouder - we lost the three points and not many teams can say that at this place."
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|19 May 2013||v Norwich (H)|