The 11th of May 2013 – the greatest day in the history of Wigan Athletic football club. They reached the FA Cup final for the first ever time, going up against a Manchester City side worth hundreds of millions. Ben Watson’s last minute goal gave Wigan a fully deserved victory and unexpected FA Cup glory.
This sort of success would have been unimaginable in the mid 1990’s with the club lingering in the bottom half of the fourth tier. Unfortunately however, this glorious victory was short lived as three days later they were relegated to the Championship following a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal. Fast forward a year and a half and Wigan are sat second from bottom of the second tier in all sorts of trouble, needing one hell of a turnaround to avoid relegation to League One.
The rise of Wigan Athletic started when Dave Whelan bought the club back in 1995. With his help they quickly went from a mid-table Division Three side to a team capable of reaching unthinkable heights. In the 2002/03 season, they stormed Division Two amassing 100 points and winning promotion to the second tier of English football for the first time in the club’s history. But their stay in the league was short lived, as the Latics achieved the improbable when they were promoted to the Premier League in 2005.
The club enjoyed a memorable first season in the top flight, finishing 10th and reaching their first major final, losing 4-0 to Manchester United in the League Cup. This was as good as it got for Wigan in terms of their league position, as in the years that followed they were regularly in a relegation battle. But they survived against the odds for eight years before finally perishing in 2013.
Over the years the club has seen some fantastic players come and go. Players such as Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia, Leighton Baines, Emile Heskey and James McCarthy were the main reasons why Wigan stayed in the Premier League for so long. But, due to the size of the club, keeping hold of these types of players proved difficult and many went onto bigger and better things.
That lack of ambition to a certain extent is why they find themselves where they are today. The loss of Roberto Martinez in 2013 certainly didn’t help and they haven’t replaced his high quality management skills since.
Last season saw the club finish 5th before falling short in the play-offs, but this season has seen the club hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The controversial appointment of Malky Mackay, coupled with Dave Whelan being charged for some unsavoury comments, not to mention the bad run of form on the field, have all capped off a tough few months for the Greater Manchester outfit.
The 1-0 defeat at home to Norwich at the weekend means Mackay is still without a win since taking over last month. They haven’t won for six league matches, since a 2-1 away victory at Derby in late October. Their failure to replace key departures in the summer has led to the struggles on the pitch. Key players such as Jordi Gomez, James McArthur and Jean Beasuejour left in the summer with McArthur attracting the highest fee of £7million to Crystal Palace.
There is still talent in the squad but the change of personnel and management has certainly disrupted their chances of moving forward. The once highly rated Callum McManaman is still impressing and with international experience in the likes of Scott Carson and James McClean, there is still quality in the side to survive.
It has been a roller-coaster last few of years for Wigan, reaching new heights and achieving many firsts, but they need to careful they don’t fall back to where they once were.