Tuesday 15 October 2019

Sequel to great escape proves beyond Martinez

Ben Rumsby

They did not go down without a fight – for 45 minutes anyway – but Wigan Athletic's spell on English football has finally been broken.

Eight years of punching well above their weight on and off the field, culminating in Saturday's fairytale FA Cup triumph, finally caught up with the team Dave Whelan built.

And while few will mourn their relegation from the Premier League, the top flight lost something last night, something Cardiff, Hull, Watford and Crystal Palace cannot replace.

Only Wimbledon – who stunned Liverpool at Wembley 25 years ago yesterday – can boast the kind of status bestowed on Roberto Martínez and his oh-so-small band of merry men.

Like the Crazy Gang, they were a curiosity, confounding their many critics and revelling in robbing from the rich. How ironic then that it was themselves who they ultimately robbed this season.

Had they reproduced Saturday's heroics over the course of the campaign, they would have an FA Cup and a top-half Premier League finish to their name.

As it is, they become the first FA Cup holders to be relegated in the same season.

That they were teetering on the brink of ending their top-flight stay with two matches remaining told the story about just how bad they had been for most of the previous nine months.

Never mind 'too good to go down', Wigan were surely too bad to stay up.

The same was said last season before seven sensational wins in their final nine fixtures sealed one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history. There were no such gravity-defying feats this term, with last week's calamitous defeat to Swansea leaving them looking doomed.

And while Saturday gave them renewed hope, the wonder of Wembley finally caught up with them last night.

Fittingly, their 37th and penultimate Premier League outing of 2012-13 was a microcosm of most of the previous 36: dangerous in attack, careless in midfield, and clueless at the back.

An early gift to Lukas Podolski was cancelled out by Shaun Maloney's free-kick before half-time but three goals in eight second-half minutes from Theo Walcott, Podolski and Aaron Ramsey – and that was that.

You could almost sense the relief in the households of Messrs Lambert and Di Canio, whose Aston Villa and Sunderland sides became Arsenal fans for the night.

Martinez refused to budge from the edge of his technical area. He could have been pondering Wigan's future but was surely considering his own.

Having rejected the advances of much bigger clubs last season, it looks as if the time is right for him to prove whether he really has what it takes at a higher level. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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