Latics’ unprecedented, remarkable and rollercoaster season was ended in the cruellest manner as two goals from Charlie Austin gave Queens Park Rangers a 2-1 extra-time victory in the Play-Offs of the Sky Bet Championship semi-final second leg at Loftus Road.
James Perch gave Uwe Rosler’s side a ninth minute lead before Austin levelled from the spot 20 minutes from time.
The former Burnley frontman added a second five minutes into extra-time to send Harry Redknapp’s side into the Wembley final against Derby County in 12 days.
Rosler made one change from Friday’s 0-0 draw at the DW Stadium with James McClean returning in place of Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Rangers made two changes from the stalemate last week with Niko Kranjcar and Kevin Doyle, both second-half substitutes on Friday, coming in for Armand Traore and Ravel Morrison.
The hosts’ fans set a hostile atmosphere from the off at Loftus Road and it was their side who had the first real effort on goal with Gary O’Neil firing over on the half-volley from 25 yards.
After overseeing the difficult opening period, Latics went ahead on nine minutes as McClean’s cross was diverted into the roof of the net by the onrushing Perch inside the six-yard box.
Latics had to overcome some nervy periods as the half wore on with a dangerous Junior Hoilett cross put behind at the back post by Jean Beausejour before the Chilean was also across to cover when Rob Kiernan’s challenge fell into the path of Doyle down the right-hand side.
Shaun Maloney was presented with a great chance to double Latics’ advantage as the first quarter of the game passed with the Scottish international rushing onto Perch’s cut-back only to see Nedum Onuoha bravely block and make the save comfortable for Rob Green.
Rangers looked to have a golden chance to score as the half hour passed with Niko Kranjcar’s corner headed narrowly wide by Charlie Austin as the half hour passed before the Croatian forced a fine save out of Scott Carson with a rasping 20-yard drive minutes later.
O’Neil then went close again as the hosts upped the ante with the former West Ham man firing through Kiernan’s legs and narrowly wide of Carson’s right-hand post on the angle.
Latics rode their luck again as the first-half come to a close with Austin rising highest to meet O’Neil’s corner, forcing another great save from Carson with the rebound bouncing off Onuoha at close range and going wide.
Again Rangers spurned a good chance to equalise as the half entered its final two minutes with another corner finding Austin at the back post but the R’s leading scoring fired over.
It was Latics who finished the first-half stronger with McClean firing narrowly over from 25 yards in injury-time, though Doyle had an effort go comfortably wide in the final minute of the five added.
The hosts began the second half with a similar intensity to what they finished the first with Austin heading Clint Hill’s cross wide before Hoilett fired over from range.
Only an unbelievably brave block from Maloney prevented the R’s from levelling ten minutes into the second-half with the Scot charging down Kranjcar’s left foot volley from the edge of the area and averting the immediate danger.
Carson came to Latics’ rescue on the hour mark as the hosts’ onslaught continued with the former Liverpool stopper springing to his left to deny Hoilett’s deep cross sneaking in off his left-hand post.
After absorbing over 20 minutes of constant pressure, Latics had a golden chance to make it 2-0 as Roger Espinoza found McClean who broke into the area at pace before being denied by Green at full stretch and unfortunately nodding the rebound wide at a tight angle.
However, after over an hour of resistance, QPR levelled when referee Mark Clattenburg awarded the hosts a penalty after Gary Caldwell fouled the onrushing Hoilett inside the area and Austin stepped up to slot into Carson’s bottom right-hand corner.
Latics almost produced an immediate reply as McClean’s set was latched onto by Martyn Waghorn who saw his left-footed effort well saved down to his left by Green.
Minutes later Maloney looked to have given Latics looked the lead as Maloney’s corner fell kindly into his path only for a fine block from Richard Dunne keeping the score level.
QPR’s route one approach unlocked the Latics defence as the game entered its final ten minutes with Bobby Zamora latching onto Dunne’s long ball before prodding over Carson and, fortunately for Latics, onto the roof of the net.
Arguably Latics man of the match, Carson was again at the rescue as the game passed the 84th minute with the 28-year-old springing to his left to deny Joey Barton’s curling effort.
The enthralling encounter went to extra-time with both sides seeing long range efforts blocked in the closing stages.
Rangers went ahead after five extra-time minutes as Zamora’ flick-on caused confusion in the Latics backline and Austin went through to prod past Carson.
Latics looked for an instant response as Jordi Gomez’s deep free-kick was headed over at the back post by Leon Barnett.
As a result of Rangers going in front, Latics had to throw bodies forward and Austin almost sealed his hat-trick with a dipping volley that was well tipped over by Carson.
Credit to Latics, they never gave up and continued to battle as Perch, who was excellent throughout, broke down the left and played in McClean who saw his right-footed shot excellently blocked by Dunne.
A late onslaught from Latics saw Kiernan’s deflected effort go narrowly wide before Barnett, Boyce and Maloney all looked to go close from the resulting corners.
A devastating end to a 62-game campaign for Latics who were backed magnificently by a superb away following from Wigan and will go again next season in the Sky Bet Championship as they look to regain their top-flight status.