Wigan are becoming the Premier League’s finest escape artists. The manner in which the club continually flirt with relegation before eventually going on to secure their top flight status is starting to look as if Wigan get themselves into ever more desperate situations each year simply to provide themselves with a challenge.
Here are three of Wigan’s great escapes.
The greatest escape of all. After an impressive first top flight campaign a year earlier, Wigan looked to be following it up with another solid season, and were nine points clear of 18th placed Charlton Athletic by the middle of March.
Relegation wasn’t even on the agenda.
But that all changed after taking just three points from their next eight games, and Wigan went into the final weekend of the season in 18th position, three points behind West Ham and Sheffield United.
Ironically their last fixture was away to Sheffield United and Wigan knew that only a win would be enough. Such a scenario would even have led to both sides staying up if West Ham had lost to Man United, who had already been crowned Champions. But Carlos Tevez’s infamous winner for West Ham ensured that the Londoners were certain to survive, and Sheffield United v Wigan became a straight contest to decide who would go down.
Against the odds and playing with 10 men following a sending-off, Wigan won 2-1 and went level with their opponents on 38 points, but leapfrogged Sheffield United by virtue of a +1 better goal difference.
It was the narrowest escape of any Premier League team to have avoided relegation, and given that the two sides involved were facing each other on the last day, remains perhaps the most dramatic last day survival in the Premier League era.
A 4-0 home defeat to newly promoted Blackpool was just about the worst possible result with which to kick off a new season and Wigan’s 6-0 loss to Chelsea only a week later left the Latics looking like early favourites for the drop.
The defeats continued – albeit they were not always quite so emphatic – and Wigan looked during much of the season like a side who were very much in danger of going down.
Although they were never more than a couple of results away from getting out of the bottom three, Wigan continually failed to pick up the results that they needed, and occupied 20th place in the league with less than a month of the season to play.
A fixture list consisting of four away games and just two at home was hardly the most appealing for a team who desperately needed to pick up points, but Wigan did finally start to do just that. The highlight was a 90th minute Charles N’Zogbia winner in Wigan’s penultimate match of the season at home to West Ham, who had led 2-0 at half time – an outcome that would have sent Wigan down.
On the last day of the season, even a win for Wigan – in a difficult away fixture at Stoke – wasn’t guaranteed to be enough. Wigan took three points, which ultimately proved to be good enough to see them stay up – helped by some favourable results in games involving their rivals.
Having not learnt anything from their narrow escape only months earlier, Wigan got off to another dreadful start this season, taking only five points from their first 11 games.
A run of nine straight defeats in all competitions had many people writing off Wigan’s chances by early November. And with Wigan remaining at the foot of the table in mid-February, five points from safety and having endured a separate ten match run without a single win, all evidence suggested that their luck was finally out – and that Roberto Martinez’s side were relegation certainties.
But while a host of clubs above them were enduring a run of defeats, Wigan picked up a few draws during February and March which helped them to edge a little closer to safety.
It was enough to climb off the bottom of the table, but Wigan remained in the bottom three, with a far tougher looking set of fixtures were still to come.
Stranger things have happened in the Premier League than a relegation-threatened team winning against a top-four club, but Wigan were in a position that demanded they would need to win more than just one of their games against top clubs.
An astonishing sequence of results saw them win four such games, but not until after they’d taken maximum points in away wins at Liverpool and Arsenal, and also beaten both Manchester United and Newcastle did Wigan appear to have any genuine hope of survival.
If 2007 was the most dramatic escape, then Wigan’s form over the last weeks of the 2011-12 season in guaranteeing another season of top flight football surely mark their most impressive escape – one that was sealed with a 1-0 win at Blackburn, a sixth win in eight games.
If only Wigan could start a season in such fine form…