As the rain poured down on Roberto Martinez and his fallen troops at the Emirates, the pathetic fallacy perfectly summed up the mood. We have inflicted these emotions directly onto other clubs in recent years, we’ve seen Sheffield United, West Ham and Blackburn perish as we have simultaneously celebrated, but now it’s our turn to feel the pain of relegation.
Although many have conceded that this outcome was inevitable, the emotions we all felt on Tuesday night are undoubtedly still very raw. Just three days after the pure ecstasy of winning the FA Cup and the unrivalled scenes of joy on our club’s proudest day; we have suffered one of the most disappointing. It’s hard to sum up how it feels.
Even Martinez, usually the bastion of optimism and the epitome of calmness, had a bitter and almost angry expression on his face that I’d never seen from him before. At the full time whistle he knew that we’d slipped off the edge and failed to reach our target. After the game he sounded like his normal self, he praised his players for their attitude and belief, but conceded that this was one step too far for them.
In spite of this, I don’t want this article to sound like an obituary, we may be disappointed but we are still in a great position to celebrate the previous eight years, which have been a truly amazing and memorable experience for the entire club. When Jewell and his spirited bunch of Championship opportunists came up in May 2005, even the most ambitious of happy clapping Latics fans couldn’t have envisaged the tremendous journey we’ve been on. Now is the time to reflect on them and relive the excitement of them, I can truly say I wouldn’t have preferred to have been a fan of any other club during those eight years, our journey has eclipsed any other.
Everyone will have their personal highlights, the first season in particular is fondly remembered by all simply because it was the first experience of the Premier League, and we took it by storm, racing into 2nd place in October and a Carling Cup Final in February. The second season was more of a reality check, but culminated in my personal highlight of our Premier League era, the ‘Battle of Bramhall Lane’. We’ve also had derby wins over Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley to enjoy, whilst we were Manchester City’s bogey team up until all their money arrived, and even returned to haunt them at Wembley last week. Then you have the upsets of beating each of the previously dominant ‘Big Four’, and further relegation deciders against West Ham, Stoke and Blackburn. It’s fair to say we haven’t been short of exciting moments.
The strangest thing about our relegation is that this squad of players is one of the most talented we’ve seen in the eight year period. Jewell and Bruces’ sides might have had more fighting spirit but this team’s passing philosophy and technical talent far eclipses them in my view. Alas, it’s fair to point out that the table doesn’t lie and you finish where you deserve to finish. Whilst I can’t dispute this, I still feel the team has enough talent to be worthy of the Premier League next season as there are at least three teams worse than us. You simply don’t win the FA Cup and deservedly beat Manchester City in the final if you’re not worthy of Premier League status.
The inquest into how and why the team finds itself in the bottom three with no hope of safety will go on between fans and between Roberto and Dave alike. The underlying fact is we didn’t get relegated because we lost at Arsenal on Tuesday night, anyone would struggle to win there, ultimately we got relegated because we threw away points and failed to perform at previous stages of the season.
Last week was when we all knew that safety was slipping from our grasp, we had a perfect opportunity to get three crucial points on the board and take the pressure off the Arsenal game at home to Swansea. It was a home fixture against a team with seemingly nothing to play for who were missing key players, a typical Wigan Athletic side immune to relegation would have seized upon this opportunity without a second thought but for some reason the players froze and defensive errors outweighed the attacking positives on show.
Yet it wasn’t just that game either. Last month against QPR, we had the chance to effectively relegate them whilst expressing our superiority, a chance to show them ‘this is why you’re going down, and this is why we’re staying up’. Yet the players, untypically, froze and were lucky to scrape a last minute point from the game. Another two points were lost in December when we drew 2-2 to QPR at home, we dominated the game but failed to earn the three points we deserved.
The six points we conceded to Sunderland have been crucial too, especially when you consider that they’re just four points ahead of us going into the last game. Okay, at the Stadium of Light Jordi Gomez was harshly sent off and the Black Cats scraped a 1-0 win, but you can’t expect to lose six points to a struggling relegation rival and expect it not to haunt you eventually.
Even in the run in, we’ve conceded points to West Ham and Tottenham (in the last minute!) that we shouldn’t have and didn’t deserve to. I’m not blaming the team because they played brilliantly in both of those games, but if you want to stay up you have to be brutal in both areas and we just weren’t brutal enough, especially when defending.
In terms of the defensive issues, Martinez has fairly pointed out the terrible list of injuries he’s had to deal with. Antolin Alcaraz, our most composed and solid defender, was out from August up until February. Ivan Ramis, another player who typifies Martinez’s style of play, has been missing for large spells of the season; Beausejour and Figueroa have missed the run in and it’s all seemed to conspire against us at a crucial time.
Now our fate has been sealed, the club will make the necessary changes in the summer and we will have a new challenge on our hands, one we’ve never experienced before. There’s now an expectancy of us to get promoted, we’ve had that pressure in the Premier League, but in the Championship we weren’t the favourites we will be next season. This represents an exciting new time for the fans and not the failure and demise some are suggesting.
Looking back, our Premier League adventure has been an extended and qualified success. We came and we annoyed a lot of the arm chair fans and the traditionalists who believe Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday deserve our place simply because of their attendances. We were like that itch on your back that you can’t quite itch, and we loved it. The Premier League, whether it’d like to admit it or not, will miss us. There’s no other fairy tale club there who battle against others twice their size and do it with such a refreshing approach and appreciation of where we came from in the first place.
Goodbye Premier League, we’ll be back.