Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the English Premier League with a match to spare after a 1-0 defeat at home to Wigan Athletic on Monday.
In a game they had to win to prolong their 11-year stay in the top flight, Blackburn were unable to find a way through Wigan’s defense.
Wigan, for whom victory secured their Premier League survival, scored the only goal of the game through Antolin Alcaraz’s header three minutes from time as they recorded their sixth win in eight league games.
Defeat at a rainswept Ewood Park capped a difficult season for Blackburn, whose Scottish manager Steve Kean has faced repeated calls from supporters to quit the northwest club.
Fans have also protested against the involvement of Blackburn owners’ Venky’s, an Indian-based poultry firm, in the running of the club.
Both Kean and Venky’s were subjected to fresh chants calling on them to leave from angry Rovers fans on Monday, with one supporter releasing a chicken onto the ground in protest during the first half.
“We are devastated, the players are numb,” Kean told Sky Sports. “In the second half we had enough chances and had a very good shout for a penalty. The fact we don’t get the result and don’t take it to the last game of the season as we did last year is massively disappointing. The lads gave us everything and they are so deflated, I can’t tell you.”
“It’s a massive setback, but we have to regroup and keep as many of our players as we can, as West Ham [United] have done and they are in a Championship playoff semi-final,” he said. “We’ll be back to fight another day.”
Wigan owner Dave Whelan, a former Blackburn player, admitted to mixed emotions.
“I am really sorry we put Rovers down. I have mixed feelings because I had 11 years at Blackburn,” Whelan said. “We had a tough start to the season, but Roberto Martinez always believed and I believed in him. As the season has gone along we have played better and better, and Roberto has proved he is a top-quality manager.”
Wigan manager Martinez never deviated from his belief in a passing game and, although his team were bottom of the table earlier in the season, the result represented the Latics’ sixth victory in eight games — a run that includes wins over champions Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle United.
“It doesn’t seem real yet,” the Spaniard said. “It’s a great feeling. It was a difficult game, you could feel the tension and it was a cagey affair, but staying up is an incredible achievement.”
Blackburn won the Premier League title in 1995 when lifelong fan and steel magnate Jack Walker was still bankrolling the club and current Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish was their manager.
However, Rovers, who conclude their campaign away to FA Cup winners and Champions League finalists Chelsea, have struggled to recapture those glory days since Walker’s death in 2000.
Now they have joined basement club Wolverhampton Wanderers in being relegated.
One more team will drop out of the Premier League on Sunday, with Bolton Wanderers and Queens Park Rangers effectively in a straight head-to-head fight to avoid relegation as Aston Villa’s goal-difference is superior to the two sides below them.
Bolton need to win at Stoke City to have any chance of staying up, but if QPR draw at Manchester City, Wanderers are down barring a massive margin of victory at the Britannia Stadium.