Wigan Athletic season review - No great escape but cup glory makes memories
Wigan Athletic - 18th
FA Cup - Winners
League Cup - Fourth round
Dramatic, record-breaking and emotional are the three words you would probably use to describe Wigan Athletic’s 2012-13 campaign. The club’s first ever silverware with an FA Cup victory and European football next season tempered the brave battle against relegation - which ultimately ended with the club losing their top flight status just days after the Wembley win over Manchester City.
Roberto Martinez resisted interest from Liverpool and, in particular, Aston Villa to stay for another season and attempt to keep the club afloat in the Premier League on a tight and restrictive budget. Losing Victor Moses to Chelsea after the opening weekend of fixtures was a blow, but the arrival of Arouna Kone gave Wigan some fresh guile when it came to finding the back of the net.
The Lancastrians actually had a solid start with four points in their first three matches, but the alarm bells were already sounding by September. The expected 4-0 defeat at Manchester United was followed by a costly home defeat to perennial away stragglers Fulham and a loss at Sunderland which also saw a red card for Jordi Gomez.
Back-to-back wins against West Ham and Tottenham as early autumn arrived put a more positive spin on things. But losing Ben Watson, the match winner at White Hart Lane, to a horrific injury in a 3-0 defeat at Liverpool in mid-November was a big blow for player and club.
The mixed results continued in the winter months: a red card for Maynor Figueroa in a hefty away reversal at Newcastle, a fine individual performance from Gomez that saw the Spaniard hit a hat-trick at home to Reading, and the best team performance of the league campaign in the final game of the calendar year, as Aston Villa were humiliated 3-0 at Villa Park.
After seeing off Bournemouth, Macclesfield and Huddersfield in the FA Cup, Wigan booked a Wembley trip in the quarter-finals with a stunning spell at Goodison against Everton. A header from Figueroa, Callum McManaman’s sheer pace and strike and a precise effort from Gomez had Wigan in dreamland, with three goals in four minutes. Everton fell apart, and the vicious reaction from their fans was telling. It was the best performance across the entire FA Cup competition this season.
The semi-final win against Championship outfit Millwall took Wigan into their first FA Cup final, against hot favourites Manchester City. What followed next was the greatest upset in a final since the Crazy Gang from Wimbledon beat Liverpool in 1988. The underdogs played out of their skin, with McManaman terrorising Gael Clichy, and prompting Pablo Zabaleta to see red. It was a fairytale ending, as Watson returned from his injury nightmare to power home the winning goal in stoppage time. This crop of Wigan players had just given their supporters the greatest memory of their lives.
Seventy-two hours later, celebrations turned to anguish. The 4-1 defeat at Arsenal ended their eight-year stay in the Premier League, although it was defeats in the run-in to West Ham and especially Swansea that cost the Latics dearly.
Next season will see many new firsts. Martinez has moved onto pastures new, resigning from his post this week, but a European adventure awaits and Wigan won many new fans this season. Many neutrals will be hoping their demise from the Premier League is only a brief one.
Manager - Roberto Martinez: Martinez has been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League and Wigan will miss him now he has departed. The style of football he insists his teams play is a joy to watch. However, the inability to shut down when in front in crucial games cost them in the run-in, and ultimately ended in relegation. Martinez goes on to new challenges, but he will never be forgotten by Latics fans.
Player of the season - Arouna Kone: Wigan have always struggled when it comes to prolific goalscorers, but Arouna Kone had a strong first season in England. Arriving from Levante in the summer, he found the target 11 times in the top flight - the best Wigan goalscoring return since the days of fellow African Henri Camara. His hard-working ethic and the nuisance he caused opposition defenders made him appreciated by the Latics supporters.
Turning point - Wigan 2-3 Swansea: After a hard-fought and slightly fortunate win away at West Brom three days earlier, this home fixture against a Swansea side with nothing to play for was a must-win for Wigan in their battle against the drop. They led twice but some comical defending allowed the Swans back into the game, and ultimately they left the DW with all three points. It was on this particular evening where Wigan’s survival hopes died.
Any other business: The impact of Callum McManaman can’t be ignored. He used the FA Cup to make a real name for himself, and gave Wigan’s attacking line an even bigger threat in the closing months of the campaign. McManaman is one of England’s brightest youngsters to emerge in years, and could be a dark horse contender for World Cup selection should he stay clear of injuries and England actually get to Brazil 2014.