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Wigan on track for great escape

Roberto Martinez and his Wigan Athletic players always seem to become invigorated when nails are being bitten and the tension is cranked up. And hopes of a third successive escapology act remain alive after the hands of relegation eased from around their throats with a crucial victory that breathed new hope into their season.

Callum McManaman has endured a turbulent few months, but his goal 10 minutes from time could ensure he is remembered this season for more palatable reasons.

Suddenly Wigan's latest survival mission appears not so unlikely, and the grim prospect of Martinez being relegated hours before the club's first appearance in an FA Cup final next weekend has disappeared. This particular scrape could yet have a happy ending after a first win in five games left them just two points adrift of safety.

Their familiar powers of recovery were evident once again as they fell behind twice but still recovered to settle an absorbing encounter.

Wigan now face Swansea at home on Tuesday night before their big date at Wembley, with Martinez increasingly optimistic of avoiding the drop into the Championship. The only blight on an encouraging afternoon was a hamstring injury to winger Jean Beausejour, who will miss next Saturday's showpiece.

"We know how to get out of this situation and the players have the experience of not being affected by it," Martinez said. "We deserved to win and had to win this game and couldn't afford to hang on for a point.

"We have worked really hard for two months to get us in the position where, with two weeks of the season left, we are still involved in two competitions. If we stay up it would be like winning the title.

"They are all finals for us game by game now but the mentality of the team is magnificent. We have to fight for every point that is left."

Even if they always leave it late to rouse themselves, Wigan will be missed by the Premier League. Their football is always entertaining and while the quality may sometimes be lacking, many teams could learn from their bold approach to games.

There was a party atmosphere at the Hawthorns anyway, as West Brom supporters toasted the relegation of bitter enemies Wolverhampton Wanderers to League One, and frequent chants were dedicated to the managerial acumen of Dean Saunders.

Albion took the lead with almost half an hour gone. Romelu Lukaku released Markus Rosenberg on the right and the Swede produced a perfect cross for Shane Long, who could not miss.

For Wigan's equaliser, Kone headed in a deep cross from Beausejour at the far post. But then Graham Dorrans floated in a free-kick and Gareth McAuley easily evaded Kone to head Albion back ahead.

The pendulum swung again with Wigan levelling after James McArthur headed in Shaun Maloney's excellent centre with his first touch after coming on as a substitute.

It was an enthralling spectacle, and Albion's Peter Odemwingie only added to the drama when he jogged up the touchline for a brief warm-up. The forward took exception to comments from the West Stand and exchanged verbals with supporters before being told to sit down by one of Steve Clarke's back-room staff.

Wigan suffered a shattering blow when Beausejour was carried off on a stretcher but recovered again to go ahead in the 80th minute after McManaman turned in the outstanding Maloney's cross. Albion battled for an equaliser and they could have had a penalty when Roger Espinoza appeared to handle in the area, but Wigan remain on course for another dramatic escape.


Irish Independent