A 62 game season, the longest of any English league team came to an end on Monday night as the gallant committed team performance was ultimately undone by a Rangers side with just that little extra flair as a brace from Austin consigned brave Wigan to another season in the Championship.
Wigan manager Uwe Rosler made one change from the goalless first leg, a recall for McClean instead of Fortune meaning a starting XI with no recognized striker, an indication of the area of the team that most needs strengthening in the summer?
Wigan started brightly with McClean a constant danger throughout with his powerful direct running only lacking composure on a couple of occasions. Latics hadn’t scored against Rangers in three games this season but made amends in the eighth minutes when a clever little ball from Beausejour found McClean overlapping on the left and his powerful cross was met by the anticipation of Perch who finished off McCleans cross and Wigan had the lead.
Rangers immediately upped the tempo and with Hoillet and Kranjcar outstanding in midfield they poured forward in search of an equaliser but Wigan’s defence superbly marshalled by Boyce held firm, the best chances for the home side falling to Doyle and Kranjcar, the latter forcing a wonderful save out of Carson in the Wigan goal.
Wigan’s game plan was to try and defend the lead and counter attack but the loss of key midfielder McArthur to be replaced by Espinoza enabled the home side to seize a dominance of midfield they never looked like losing and Wigan were forced to defend deeper as Rangers turned the screw.
McClean continued to trouble the home defence and from a mistake by the home side he burst through on goal but went down without Green making contaxct and earning himself a deserved yellow card in the process.
Key man Kranjcar provided the next chance when a corner found the head of Austin who couldn’t get the chance on target and then the Croatian tested Carson again but the keeper was up to the task.
Further chances to O’Neil, Austin and Onuha further emphasised Ranger’s dominance but Wigan helf on and even managed a coupek of forays into the home penalty area but found Onuha in the home defence in imperious form even after receiving a nasty cut above the eye that resulted in stitches at half time
Wigan trooped off at half time with the sense of a job well done albeit with another 45 minutes to go.
Rangers started the second half much as they finished the first with a constant pressure on a gallant Wigan rearguard action, Hoillet once again giving notice of his prowess by creating space before firing narrowly over.
Former Wigan transfer target Kranjcar then fired a powerful goal bound shot only to see it block by a brave dive by Maloney who threw himself into the path of the ball .
Rangers didnt have it all their own way and Wigan’s magnificent noisy travelling support thought it was two nilw when a beautiful ball form Espinoza found McClean through with only Green to beat, the keeper saved well but the ball fell to the Irishman whose shot from a narrow angle rebounded off the post .
This missed chance proved costly as Hoilett edged into the penalty area to be brought down by Caldwell who was injured on the process. Austin stepped up to take the penalty and with Carson committing himself a fraction too soon , fired the ball into the opposite corner and Ranger were level. Caldwell was substituted and with the Scotsman being out of contract in the summer his last action in a Wigan Athletic shirt may have been to concede the penalty that cost Wigan the chance of a return to the Premier League , a harsh way to end four committed years at Wigan Athletic.
Latics tried to hit back and the effervescent McClean forced a aave iut of Green with Waghorn screaming for the ball when unmarked and better placed.
Confusion in the Wigan defence saw old stager Zamora beat three Wigan defenders and with Carson stranded in no man’s land his chip thankfully sailed over the bar onto the roof of the net.
Carson then redeemed his indecision with an athletic dive to prevent Barton’s shot form giving Rangers the lead.
Wigan managed to hang on until the final whistle but seemingly dead on their feet, you had to wonder whether they had anything left in the tank for the next thirty minutes and then the possibility of a penalty shoot out.
Rangers nixed that aspiration by going ahead five minutes as Zamora’ flick-on saw Austin get goal side of the static Barnett and clip the past Carson.
This set back spurred Latics on and over the next twenty five minutes good chances fell to Barnett who headed over, McClean whose shot with his weaker right foot was blocked and a powerful shot from Kiernan which took a wicked deflection spinning agonizingly wide of the far post with Green stranded.
It wasn’t to be however and Wigan’s marathon season came to a halt in the West London rain but although they had ultimately fallen at the semi final stage , no one can doubt the effort and commitment put in by the squad over the season although much will depend upon retaining key players for next season’s campaign.
Team Line Up and Player Ratings.
Carson…..8, some amazing saves.
Boyce…..9, MOM, Awesome
Caldwell…..7, A sad way to bow out conceding the penalty, withdrawn
Kiernan…..7, a nervous start but grew into the game .
Perch…..7, showed great anticipation for his goal, defended well.
Beausejour…..6, a quiet game for one of Wigan’s key attacking threats.
McArthur…..6, early exit with a calf injury, withdrawn.
Gomez….6, another key player to have a quiet night.
McClean…..8, ran and ran and ran, totally committed performance.
Maloney…..6, failed to impose himself on the game.
McManaman….6, gave his all but lacked a creative spark, withdrawn.
Espinoza for McArthur…..8, one of his bet games in a Latics shirt.
Barnett for Caldwell…..6, lack of pace exposed with the second goal.
Waghorn for McManaman…..6, failed to trouble the Ranger’s defence
Match Rating….7/10 tense oh so tense
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