Wigan Athletic’s maiden voyage into the UEFA Europa League ended at the Group Stages after defeat in Slovenia – but that does not begin to tell the story of a dramatic game in which Uwe Rosler was left fuming over the decision to send off Chris McCann on the stroke of half time; a decision which turned the game completely on its head.
Both sides knew that victory would take them through to the knock out stages – if Rubin Kazan fulfilled their side of the bargain and beat Zulte Waregem in Belgium and in the end it was Latics who were left with a sour taste in their mouths, losing a game they dominated for most of the contest.
In the German’s first match in charge, Latics had bossed the first 40 minutes with a slick passing game that had their hosts on the back foot from the first minute. Jordi Gomez had already seen one free kick scrambled to safety when his superb through ball to Nick Powell led to the latter being upended in the box by Brazilian defender Arghus.
Gomez drilled the ball home from the spot under the body of keeper Jasmin Handanovic to give Latics a deserved lead but within seconds, Polish referee Szyman Marcinick judged that a shot at goal by Dejan Mezga which struck McCann on the thigh before rebounding onto the underside of his arm was worthy not only of a penalty, but also a second yellow card. The Latics fans behind Scott Carson’s goal looked on bewildered at the decision.
But the drama of the moment was not over. Carson dove brilliantly to parry Mezga’s spot kick onto the upright but the ball rebounded directly to the winger's feet with the keeper stranded; lady luck really not smiling upon Wigan Athletic.
Callum McManaman, who had been back to something approaching his dazzling best before the break, was sacrificed in place of Ben Watson but alas the ten men were soon behind. Latics were slow to clear the ball outside the area as Maribor launched a wave of attacks and Filipovic pounced on a loose ball 25 yards out to lash in an unstoppable drive just short of the hour mark.
The ten men now faced a mountain akin to those that overlooked the picturesque Slovenian ground and almost paid the price for pushing extra bodies forward when Nusmir Fajic should have put the match out of reach from a one on one, his effort whistling wide of the post instead. It was their only real significant effort as Latics, with Marc Antoine Fortune and Emmerson Boyce sent on for Nick Powell and James McArthur, rallied and finished really strongly.
Handanovic was at full stretch to palm away Fortune’s effort, who then found himself free to fire home but the goal was ruled out for offside. Handanovic was again on hand to claw away a rasping drive from Watson.
As news circled the stadium that Rubin Kazan had scored, the tension rose, Maribor seemed to wither under the pressure and the last few minutes were agonising for both sides.
It was a sad way for the Europa League campaign to finish but, roared on by the 1,000 fans who made the trip to Slovenia, the club can feel genuinely proud of what it has achieved in this historic maiden voyage into Europe.