This past season has seen more intrigue, magic, terror and excitement than an X-rated Harry Potter novel. A better comparison might be the 2006‐–07 Premier League campaign, which also saw Wigan scrape through by the skin of a skinny supermodel’s rice pudding. Actually, that’s a stupid comparison as the likes of Kate Moss would most likely melt instantaneously upon contact with such a sugary foodstuff, if the state of my teeth is anything to go by.
2010–11 shall live long in the memory of every Latics supporter, if not for the dramatic defeats which characterised early August, then for the almost unbearable finale and, of course, the games which sealed survival, the contests from which we had to get a result when the pressure was really on. Forget, if you will, the bad times that left us furrowing the depths of despair and preparing for the Championship as early as December 2010, for when we look back upon this season I’m sure it’ll be the positive results that stand out. After all, I’m sure nobody remembers White Hart Lane anymore…
Detailed in this article are the nine victories we will remember as being integral to Wigan Athletic’s survival in the 2010–11 season, a handful of which will go down in history as among the greatest ever by the club. At this point I should also make it clear that fifteen draws also played a large part in Wigan’s final league position of 16th, and a number of those are almost as memorable. Though I have made allusion to, for example, the two great 1–1s with Liverpool, it’s the wins we shall be focusing on here.
Hugo was the goalscoring hero
Following two heavy defeats, Latics were immediately instated as firm favourites for the drop and we weren’t even the other side of August. A 6–0 loss to Chelsea wasn’t a massive surprise, but going down 4‐–0 to Premier League newcomers Blackpool on the opening day of the season certainly was.
Bolton loanee Ali Al Habsi was given the nod over an ailing Chris Kirkland after a solid effort in his side’s 3–0 midweek cup win over Hartlepool. His performance at White Hart Lane would see him seize the first-choice keeper spot with open arms, which admittedly wasn’t all that difficult a task, as by this point Kirkland was visibly out of form, low on confidence and hardly able to grasp the ball. But the Omani shot-stopper went above and beyond the call of duty, producing a series of outstanding saves to preserve Wigan’s clean sheet and allow Hugo Rodallega to steal the points with twelve minutes to play. The White Hart Hoodoo well and truly put to bed, Latics’ season was back on track.
Jordi Gomez proved an unlikely hero throughout much of November
Towards the end of September, Latics embarked upon a winning run which took in points against Birmingham, Newcastle and Bolton. The previous week had also seen a last-gasp Carling Cup victory over local rivals Preston to boost confidence at the DW Stadium and prove Latics weren’t here just to make up the numbers. Sandwiched between these successes was a superb home win against Wolves in which Wigan got more shots on target than in each of their previous Prem games added together.
Latics were helped somewhat by an early red card for Karl Henry, but still had to go out and do the business. The hosts really hit goalscoring form in the second half as a superbly placed free kick from Jordi Gomez was followed by a late Rodallega clincher. It was a scrappy finish, but you’ll take ‘em however they come when you’re down at the bottom end of the Premier League.
Wigan followed a great midweek point against Liverpool with another home win thanks to Victor Moses’s wonderfully taken 70th minute strike. After a nondescript first half, the game sparked into life as both sides looked to hit each other on the break, a common tactic throughout the first half of Wigan’s season. A late miss from Franco Di Santo meant a nervy final five minutes for the hosts, but they remained strong and hauled themselves out of the relegation zone with a timely victory.
Ronnie Stam (left) and Tom Cleverley (right) get in the Boxing Day spirit
After a disappointing November, Latics hit another rich vein of form around Christmas, managing to pinch points at Everton and at home to Arsenal with the aid of an on-form Ali Al Habsi. The cream of this crop was a Boxing day win at Molineux which saw the Lancastrians complete their first (and, as it happened, only) double of the season.
Capitalising on a Wolves defensive horror show, first Rodallega then Cleverley would strike to give the visitors an early two-goal cushion which proved vital as Wolves threatened to recover. Though they got one back late on and had a penalty appeal turned down, Al Habsi was once again in imperious form to deny the hosts and help his team cling on for the points. A bunch of Latics bananamen, who had made the trip south, must have found the game somewhat a-peeling.
January was not kind to Wigan, who scrambled three draws to just about keep them afloat, but on the whole tasted defeat more often than they would have liked. February was marginally more fruitful, bearing a draw at Anfield and an enthralling 4–3 defeat of Blackburn Rovers. Winter had taken its toll on the DW surface, which wasn’t helped by torrential rain becoming worse as the game developed. Latics coped with it better, taking the second half 3–2 with a remarkable fifteen minute spell of football that saw three goals for the home side.
The highlight of a wet afternoon was undoubtedly James McCarthy’s potential goal-of-the-season strike. Charles N’Zogbia made his way into the opposition area before tapping the ball to the Irishman, who first set himself up with his right foot before finishing past three defenders with his left. Though it was Ben Watson’s 65th minute penalty which proved the winner, there was no doubting which of Wigan’s four goals was the more memorable.
At the time you would have placed a bet on this game being the DW’s most exciting of the season, but little did we know what was yet to come.
The teams prepare for battle
A series of games against top-of-the-table teams ensured another fallow period for Wigan, who now faced the very real prospect of relegation and emerged the other side of yet another international break needing a win against Birmingham to stay in the hunt. It proved a memorable encounter, and one which would have a massive bearing upon the eventual make-up of the league’s bottom three.
After conceding early, the Latics battled back and, through Cleverley, were on level terms by half time. They restarted on the attack, carving out a couple of chances before the introduction of Rodallega, who missed out on a starting berth due to injury, and Conor Sammon. It would be a masterstroke, as combined with N’Zogbia, Fish n’ Rod would be an almost irresistible force injecting a newfound urgency and passion into Wigan’s attacking play. Despite this, the hosts still hadn’t scored as the contest entered stoppage time.
Just when the game looked to be heading for a draw, a long-distance Figueroa strike wrongfooted keeper Ben Foster and flew into the South Stand goal to win the game with but seconds remaining. The home crowd went into raptures, and hope sprang anew because the relegation battle had once again been blown wide open – three points now separated the bottom eight.
Each and every game would be crucial from hereon in, though few will have been as important as Wigan’s clash with the Seasiders at Bloomfield Road. The visitors had been doing a good job of keeping the points ticking over of late but simply could not find the wins, making this another highly important encounter in the relegation scrap.
Wigan got off to a great start when Hugo Rodallega capitalised on a defensive mistake, finishing wonderfully to spark a sun-soaked visiting contingent into what would be an afternoon-long sing song. Though Blackpool came back into things, they would go two down in first half injury time through Charles N’Zogbia, who left Gilks helpless in the ‘Pool net with another class finish.
Momo Diame’s deflected strike on 67 minutes sealed the deal, even if those final ten minutes saw play camped in the Wigan penalty area following an 83rd minute goal by DJ Campbell. In the end it proved mere consolation, and a 3–1 victory lifted Wigan off bottom spot and out of the relegation zone, while Blackpool were plunged right back into the mire.
Charlie's winner sparked jubilant scenes
The stage was set for a high stakes encounter at the DW Stadium when other results, played the previous day in this penultimate round of games, ensured a must-win situation for both sides. Should West Ham lose, they would be mathematically doomed, while anything other than a win for the hosts would leave them with an absolute mountain to climb and perhaps even consign them to relegation. It promised to be a classic game, and in that respect it certainly did not disappoint.
Despite some enterprising attacking play by the Latics, they could not find the net in the first half. Worse, their defence was struggling to cope with anything of height tossed into their penalty area, a weakness that would ultimately cost them two goals. A Demba Ba headed brace looked to have put the game beyond Wigan’s grasp, and when Rob Green pulled off a string of saves shortly before half time it seemed as though Wigan’s Premier League survival challenge was fizzling out right there and then. But things weren’t sorted quite yet.
Throwing caution to the wind, Martinez introduced Conor Sammon and Victor Moses to try and change his side’s fortunes. A magnificent 57th minute N’Zogbia free kick offered some hope of salvation with over half an hour to play. Another goal would now put the game well and truly back in the balance, and with Wigan now pouring forward in search of the equaliser, the crowd sensed another. They weren’t wrong, either, as on 68 minutes Conor Sammon bagged his first for the club with a sublimely taken shot across Green and into the goal’s bottom right hand corner.
The remaining 20 minutes, and in particular the final ten, will go down as one of the most exciting spells of league football ever seen in the town of Wigan. Both teams completely dispensed of midfield and went all-out attack to save their season in an intense end-to-end affair the likes of which I have never before witnessed. The hosts went closest through Ben Watson who hit the post on 86, but West Ham’s Carlton Cole squandered a great opportunity just yards from goal as the match entered stoppage time.
It was Charles N’Zogbia who snatched the game in dramatic fashion on the stroke of the final whistle, sending the ball underneath Green to grab a heart-stopping winner and keep Latics alive. Martinez ate up the final seconds by withdrawing Rodallega, who received a great ovation for his part in a memorable match. The final whistle blew; West Ham were relegated, while Wigan had taken their fight to the very last day of the season.
Al Habsi kept the Latics on course in the first half
A variety of complicated permutations surrounded the 2010–11 Premier League final day, dubbed ‘Survival Sunday’. Latics, who sat nineteenth on goal difference, would be almost assured safety with a win, whilst a draw might be enough to scrape through on 40 points. They would just have been grateful, however, to be given the opportunity considering their occupation of the bottom three for much of the last two months.
A visibly tense Wigan had a poor first half. Ali Al Habsi produced two superb saves to preserve his side’s clean sheet, whilst Jonathan Walters had the ball in the Wigan net only to see his effort ruled offside. It was the correct decision, but Wigan could count themselves lucky to still be at 0–0. The second half was a different story as Wigan came at their hosts with renewed vigour: the enormity of the situation had begun to sink in.
Latics were now winning 50:50 balls in midfield and looking like their usual selves. Tom Cleverley replaced Conor Sammon and almost had an immediate impact, testing Stoke keeper Begovic within minutes of his introduction. As news of goals in other games started to filter through, morale gradually began to increase among Latics and their 1400 travelling fans. This came to a head on 78 minutes, when Maynor Figueroa produced the cross of his life to present Hugo Rodallega with a great opportunity. The Colombian duly headed past Begovic to give Latics the lead and a great chance of safety.
The visitors saw out a nervy twelve minutes plus an additional five for stoppages to ensure their survival. Results elsewhere propelled Wigan to sixteenth in the Premier League table, and the Blues were staying up. Martinez had masterminded a Great Escape with the requisite two wins from two and, with the aid of N’Zogbia, Al Habsi et al, made good his promise of Premier League football for 2011-12.