12:32 15 February 2012
By Latics Staff
Final day drama at Bramall Lane
As expected, Wigan's second season in the Premiership was not as smooth as the debut campaign in the top flight. The season started with a difficult trip at Newcastle where Scott Parkers' header was cancelled out by Lee McCulloch, but a Shola Ameobi goal won the match 2-1 for the Magpies.
Wigan's first win of the season happened the weekend after the trip to St. James' with the visit of Reading who had a great start to life in the top flight after they won the Championship. £5.5million signing Emile Heskey netted his first goal in Latics colours to secure a 1-0 win.
Latics picked up their first away point at Everton where despite going down twice, Latics came back with two brilliant goals from Paul Scharner, one of which was a brilliant long-range header.
Latics had to wait a while longer for their first win on their travels, although they had a great start at Blackburn when Heskey volleyed in Emmerson Boyce's in the opening minutes, although it proved to be a false dawn as the Ewood Park club fought back to win 2-1.
After a seemingly slow start to the 06/07 season, Latics started to pick up momentum after the visit of Manchester City in October. Once again, Heskey gave Latics a perfect lead from Boyce's cross, and this was quickly followed up with a Richard Dunne own goal. Further strikes from Henri Camara and Antonio Valencia inflicted a humiliating 4-0 defeat on City, and that became Wigan's biggest ever Premiership win.
Latics then won three on the trot, when Henri Camara's late strike gave Latics their first away win of the season at Fulham to the tune of 1-0. Lee McCulloch repeated the feat a week later at local rivals Bolton whilst a 3-2 victory over Charlton saw their boss Iain Dowie sacked after just 12 games.
The second Premiership season looked comfortable in early December when Latics won at Upton Park for the third time in a row. David Cotterill's first goal and a Jonathan Spector own goal contributed to 2-0 win.
But then Latics fortunes took a nosedive as they went without a win in 9 league matches, a new record. Latics lost to newly promoted Sheffield United at home, whilst a trip to Watford was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. Blackburn and Everton easily won at the JJB Stadium during that run, although Latics were robbed of a vital point from Arsenal as Emmanuel Adebayor netted a winner two minutes from for a 1-0 win. The same happened with Chelsea when Arjen Robben nicked a cruel winner to give the Stamford Bridge club a 3-2 victory.
The dreadful run finally ended in early February when a McCulloch strike defeated a high flying Portsmouth 1-0 at a foggy JJB Stadium.
But ecstasy turned to despair a week later when Latics visited Arsenal at their spanking new Emirates Stadium. Denny Landzaat scored a screamer from 35-yards but referee Phil Dowd incurred the wrath of Paul Jewell when Heskey was denied a clear penalty in the box, and to the amazement of everyone, no penalty was given. Cue late goals from Pavel Rosicky and an unfortnate own goal which gifted the Gunners a totally undeserved 2-1 win.
A valuable point was earned at the rescheduled fixture at Watford when new signing Caleb Folan, from Chesterfield, netted the all important goal.
Latics got back on track the following week, when Ryan Taylor scored his first Latics league goal with a brilliant free-kick at home to Newcastle for a 1-0 win. The win was all the sweeter after John Filan pulled off an amazing save from a Nolberto Solano penalty.
Latics continued their good form when they travelled to Manchester City, and Folan's far post header meant that they won 1-0 for the second season in a row. Jewell's men managed to get a point against a stubborn Fulham team with a goaless draw.
Latics still had not been in the bottom three but were always looking over their shoulders. The end of March signalled the opportunity to make up ground in the league table with a trip to Charlton, but the Addicks won via a penalty.
Latics anticipated the visit of Bolton whom we were unbeaten against since promotion to the Premiership in 2005. But Wanderers' Iranian Andranik scored a brace as Latics went down 3-1.
Emile Heskey opened the scoring at Aston Villa on Easter Monday, but despite Gabriel Agbonlahor's equaliser it was a hard earned point.
Latics then produced a fantastic performance against Spurs, but it all highlighted what the problems had been all season. Latics had squandered so many leads that out of the whole Premiership they had lost around 26 points from winning positions.
Every time Latics took the lead against Spurs, they were pegged shortly afterwards. First Heskey scrambled home a header from close range only to see Dimitar Berbatov equalise minutes later. Then Leighton Baines' stunning volley was then cancelled out a minute later as Robbie Keane scored from the spot. Keane restored parity again when he cancelled out Kevin Kilbane's header after he chipped John Filan off his line.
It finished 3-3 and although a very entertaining match, it was very frustrating for Latics fans watch their team take the lead three times but only end up with a point.
With Latics just a few points above the drop zone, and goal difference between all the relegation threatened teams just a few goals apart, Jewell opted for a cautious approach for the trip to Anfield. Liverpool rested Steven Gerrard but they still won 2-0 with a Dirk Kuyt brace. Latics only had a Folan header on target all match, but despite the defensive approach, the result eventually made a big difference.
West Ham were in 18th place but were just three points behind Latics with three games left, albeit they had a worse goal difference. The Hammers had just had the news that they were to be fined £5.5million for fielding ineligible Carlos Tevez, but he was still allowed to play. But Latics were not at the races that day and they lost 3-0 with the Argentine playing a starring role.
Things looked grim for Latics after the last home match when Middlesbrough were the visitors. Mark Viduka tucked away Stewart Downings free kick and as a result Latics lost 1-0.
On the same weekend West Ham totally blitzted Bolton at Upton Park, and that dropped Latics into the relegation zone for the first time of the season, with only one match remaining.
Latics were three points behind the Hammers and Sheffield United, and whilst the former had to travel to Manchester United on the last day of the season, Latics actually had to travel to the latter.
With just one goal difference seperating the two teams, it basically meant that Latics just had to win to overtake Sheffield United and haul themselves out of the drop zone. Meanwhile, the Blades could not afford to lose either just in case the Hammers got anything at Old Trafford.
At the start of the day, Latics were clear favourites for the drop given that the Blades only needed a draw. But Latics produced when it mattered most and got off to a brilliant start.
Kevin Kilbane's cross was rifled into the corner from twenty yards by Paul Scharner after a quarter-of-an-hours play. But, as expected, the Blades fought back and on the half-hour Jon Stead connected to Phil Jagielka's header to equalise although he clattered into Mike Pollitt in the process.
The Latics shot stopper continued to play on, although Jagielka proved to be his clubs downfall as he handled in the box on the stroke of half-time. So who else to walk up to the penalty spot and send the past a despairing Paddy Kenny in the Blades' goal?
It was none other than former Everton defender David Unsworth, who had played for the Blades before signing for Latics in January. The veteran smashed home from the spot, and Latics defended stubbornly for the whole second half, with a starring role from Heskey who seemed to be everywhere on the pitch at once!
Latics won, and the job was done! They would be in the Premiership for a third term. However, news filtered through that Carlos Tevez had scored a winner against a weakened Manchester United, and that meant the Blades were relegated on goal difference! In fact, Unsworth's penalty against his former club was enough for Latics to survive by just a solitary goal!
The drama continued off the pitch as Paul Jewell resigned the following day citing that he needed a break from the game, and so assistant Chris Hutchings was appointed the manager. The first thing he did was release Unsworth on a free transfer, but although he was only with Latics for a few months, the importance of his penalty at Bramall Lane cannot be under estimated.