Mark Hughes’ first win as Southampton manager ended the club’s 15-year wait for an FA Cup semi-final appearance as they beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 at the DW Stadium.
The Premier League strugglers scored twice in the last half hour to give the newly installed Saints boss victory in his first game in charge but he won’t have enjoyed the hour leading up to their first goal, in which his side were second best against League One opposition.
Paul Cook’s well-drilled Wigan side pressed throughout the first half and prevented Southampton from taking a shot on target, but Hughes’ half-time team-talk seemed to instil the visitors with the belief they needed to break the home side down.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s goal after 62 minutes was his first for the club in his 54th appearance and came courtesy of an assist by Dusan Tadic.
The Southampton fans were already celebrating when Cedric Soares broke clear of the Wigan defence in second-half injury-time to double the lead.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) March 18, 2018
While Wigan’s impressive cup run – which featured a victory over Manchester City – comes to an end, the result leaves Southampton, who had a Manolo Gabbiadini penalty saved after 72 minutes, competing on two fronts as they seek to end the season on a high by escaping relegation from the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final.
Southampton lined up with two strikers rather than their customary one, only for Wigan to pin them back in a one-sided first-half.
Nathan Byrne linked up with Will Grigg after 14 minutes but the Northern Ireland international dragged his shot wide from close range.
Byrne probed again moments later with a shot that ricocheted off a defender and Cheyenne Dunkley was agonisingly close to poking it home with his outstretched leg, the ball drifting past him and wide of the goal.
Gary Roberts was gifted an opportunity when a poor defensive header fell to him in the Southampton penalty area and he chipped the ball over the crossbar from 10 yards when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Wigan continued to press and Grigg was allowed space in Southampton’s six-yard box after 36 minutes but he couldn’t get his shot away.
Michael Jacobs sent an angled drive over the crossbar from the edge of the box early in the second half as Southampton continued to struggle.
Sofiane Boufal’s dipping free-kick after 55 minutes was as close as the visitors had come to threatening before Dunkley allowed Byrne’s pass to roll back past him into the Wigan penalty area, where Gabbiadini failed to beat Christian Walton one-on-one.
The chance seemed to inspire Southampton and Hojbjerg had a header saved by Walton shortly before he arrived in the penalty area to stab Tadic’s knock-down into the net from five yards after 62 minutes.
Gabbiadini burst into the Wigan box 10 minutes later and was brought down by Dan Burn, but the Italian’s spot-kick was kept out by an acrobatic save from Walton, who parried the ball around the post.
Wigan pushed up in the last 10 minutes to try to force an equaliser but they were caught on the break in the dying seconds when Cedric surged past Callum Elder, opened up his body and buried the ball in the far corner of the net to wrap up a memorable win for Southampton.
Key Opta stats:
– Southampton have reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since the 2002/03 season, when they eventually lost the final to Arsenal.
– Mark Hughes has progressed from all three of his FA Cup quarter-finals as a manager (also 2004/05 and 2006/07 with Blackburn Rovers).
– Southampton have now progressed from 19 of their last 20 FA Cup ties against sides from a lower division, including each of their last 10.
– Dusan Tadic has assisted 32 goals in all competitions for Southampton – 12 more than any other player since his debut in August 2014.
– Saints have failed to score with four of their last seven penalties in all competitions, with two of those failed attempts taken by Manolo Gabbiadini.
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