It was around this time last season when Shaun Maloney became the toast of Wigan Athletic. It was the Scotsman’s fantastic strike that beat mighty Manchester United at the DW Stadium, spearheading the Latics to their first victory over the Red Devils in the Premier League era.
Not only that, but it made the great escape possible, and of course, that became reality a week before the season finished.
Fast forward almost a full year to a moment that could have massive consequences in the battle to stay in the top flight.
Maloney is standing over a free-kick in the 94th minute of a nervy encounter away at QPR. Wigan have looked shy of creating many opportunities all game, and despite a man advantage as Bobby Zamora saw red for a high challenge on Jordi Gomez, the visitors were in trouble.
Loic Remy’s spectacular effort in the 85th minute has put Harry Redknapp’s stragglers into a crucial 1-0 lead, a result that would rekindle the Hoops’ hopes of escaping the drop.
Maloney knows, as does Roberto Martinez and the thousands of supporters who have travelled to west London that if this final chance doesn’t go in, it will be a very damaging defeat for the club.
He steps up and curls a special free-kick over the wall and past Julio Cesar’s despairing dive. Cue sheer ecstasy on the face of his team-mates and fans, and pain and frustration for the home players and Redknapp. Not only was this the moment that all but finally put the nail into the coffin for QPR’s season, it keeps Wigan in with a great opportunity of staying alive again against the odds.
Aston Villa’s impressive display at Stoke on Saturday means they are now out of the bottom three at the Latics’s expense. However, Maloney’s late heroics leave Martinez’s side below Sunderland only on goal difference, two points shy of Villa and three adrift of a freefalling Stoke.
With Newcastle and Southampton picking up crucial victories, and Norwich stumbling towards the safety line, it is starting to look like one from four to join QPR and Reading in the drop to the Championship. Defeat wouldn’t have been the end of the world for Wigan on Sunday, but it would have been a seriously missed opportunity, especially the way the game turned out.
By their standards, they lacked cohesion and quality, even after Zamora’s dismissal in the first-half for a reckless high challenge.
The hosts had more vigour, desire and energy in their attempts to try and win the game. They were seconds away from doing it too, but now their hopes of remaining a Premier League club are now surely in total tatters.
For Wigan, the dream of surviving is still on, but Premier League safety can be forgotten about for the next week, as they have a Wembley day out to look forward to on Saturday against Millwall in the FA Cup semi-final. The rocky road of Wigan Athletic’s dramatic season continues.
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