West Ham United manager Avram Grant was sacked minutes after a 3-2 defeat away to Wigan Athletic on Sunday saw the London club relegated from the English Premier League.
Senegal striker Demba Ba’s first-half double put the Hammers 2-0 up in a match they had to win to set up a chance of a last-day reprieve against Sunderland next weekend, but Wigan, who stayed second bottom, hit back through Charles N’Zogbia’s blistering 57th-minute free-kick, before substitute Conor Sammon drew the hosts level at the DW Stadium 11 minutes later as West Ham squandered their lead.
N’Zogbia then sealed Wigan’s remarkable recovery in stoppage-time when he slid a shot under the body of England goalkeeper Robert Green, who had previously made several fine saves.
Defeat left the Hammers on 33 points, meaning a win against Sunderland would not be enough for them to climb out of the relegation zone.
“The club can confirm that Avram Grant is no longer the manager of West Ham United,” a statement released on the club’s Web site said. “First-team coach Kevin Keen will take charge of the team for the final home match of the season against Sunderland on May 22.”
For Grant, defeat meant he’d overseen his second successive relegation from the Premier League following Portsmouth’s demotion last season.
“At 2-2, we had big chances to score and maybe this is the story of our season,” the Israeli, speaking before his sacking, told Sky Sports. “The fans were great. I feel so sorry we couldn’t do the job we wanted to.”
Wigan could yet avoid the drop if they get a draw or better against Stoke City next Sunday and other results go their way.
“We were 2-0 down, deservedly, but then we got that reaction and all the hard work through the [last] 10 months came out,” proud Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said.
In all, five clubs are left within a point of each other as they face a frantic finale to stay in the top flight.
Wigan and Blackpool are in the relegation zone on 39 points. Birmingham City, beaten 2-0 by Fulham on Sunday, also have 39 points, but they are above the bottom three on goal-difference.
Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers, on 40 points apiece, are still not assured of avoiding relegation ahead of their meeting at Molineux next Sunday.
Brede Hangeland headed in from a fifth-minute corner, before the central defender doubled Fulham’s lead in the 49th minute.
At the top of the table, Arsenal’s hopes of a second-place finish ended with a match to spare following a 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa as England striker Darren Bent scored twice early in the first half, before Robin van Persie pulled a goal back late on.
Defeat left the Gunners, booed by their own fans, four points adrift of second-placed Chelsea, who earlier on Sunday gave their London rivals hope by conceding a late equalizer in a 2-2 draw with Newcastle United.
Arsenal could now miss out on the top-three finish needed to guarantee a Champions League group stage spot and avoid the qualifying round, with fourth-placed Manchester City just two points behind with a game in hand.
The FA Cup winners play Stoke City at Eastlands today in a repeat of Saturday’s Wembley final.
Tottenham Hotspur moved into pole position for a place in the Europa League after a 2-0 win away to Liverpool moved them a point in front of their rivals for a spot in the second-tier European tournament.
Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart fired Spurs into a ninth-minute lead with a fierce shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Luka Modric then struck home a 56th-minute penalty which had been controversially awarded by World Cup final referee Howard Webb.
Chelsea had seen their slim hopes of retaining the title ended by champions Manchester United’s 1-1 draw away to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, but they responded by going ahead as early as the second minute through defender Branislav Ivanovic at Stamford Bridge.
However, Newcastle United equalized eight minutes later through midfielder Jonas Gutierrez.
Chelsea regained the lead seven minutes from time when a mistake by Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul, who misjudged a Frank Lampard free-kick, allowed Brazilian defender Alex to head in at the far post, but Newcastle defender Steven Taylor nodded in from close-range shortly before the final whistle.