Wigan’s last game in the Premier League ended in stalemate as they were held 2-2 by Aston Villa. Darren Bent gave Villa an early lead with a shot from eighteen yards before Emmerson Boyce equalised with a header and then Latics took a half time lead through a Nathan Baker own goal.
But the FA Cup winners were unable to sign off their eight years in the top flight with a win due to Ron Vlaar’s spectacular equaliser on 60 minutes.
Roberto Martinez made several changes to the team which lost at Arsenal with Ali Al Habsi replacing Joel Robles in-goal, Roman Golobart taking over from Antolin Alcaraz in defence and Ben Watson slotting into midfield for the injured Callum McManaman.
In bright sunshine it was Villa who started the brighter and took the lead on five minutes. Gabi Agbonlahor’s pass gave Darren Bent the chance to run at the Wigan defence and get in an early shot which evaded Ali Al Habsi and went in off the right hand post.
Despite the setback the Latics soon got into their stride and started to play their trademark passing game.
Arouna Kone was only prevented from scoring by a last-ditch tackle by Nathan Baker before Wigan did equalise through Emmerson Boyce on 21 minutes. The excellent Roger Espinoza provided a superb left-wing cross and the Latics captain headed powerfully past Brad Guzan in the Villa goal.
Shaun Maloney nearly increased Wigan’s lead from a free kick but Guzan made a smart save. But just when it looked like the sides would go into the break level, Wigan went ahead with a scrambled own goal. Ben Watson’s shot was kicked away by Ashley Westwood but his attempted clearance only hit Nathan Baker and the ball ended up in the Villa net.
The first period had been an open-ended encounter and the game continued in the same vein in the second half. Boyce skimmed the crossbar with a fine effort before Villa drew level when centre half Ron Vlaar produced a superb piece of skill, first to bring the ball down from a corner, then expertly volley past Al Habsi.
Wigan were unlucky not to regain the lead when James McArthur volleyed against the crossbar but it was not to be and the points were shared.
It was a bittersweet ending to Wigan’s eighth season in the Premier League. A disappointing relegation year was sweetened by the FA Cup victory and Europa League qualification.
The attention will now turn to the question about whether Roberto Martinez will remain as manager next season. It will be an extremely difficult decision for the Spaniard who has devoted so much of his career to Wigan.
Many observers will see relegation as the ideal time for Martinez to move onto a bigger club, but I’m still hopeful that he will want to remain in charge and take up the challenge of returning Wigan to the top flight.