Wigan Athletic’s hopes of pulling off another great escape act to preserve their Premier League status suffered a huge blow on Tuesday when they lost 3-2 at home to League Cup winners Swansea City.
Wigan — who play Manchester City in the FA Cup final on Saturday — only had themselves to blame as they twice let Swansea equalize and handed the visitors, who were winning their first game in nine, their third on a plate.
The defeat leaves Wigan — whose manager Roberto Martinez made his name managing Swansea — third from bottom, three points adrift of Newcastle United, Sunderland and Norwich City with two games remaining.
Martinez, though, while admitting they had let an opportunity slip, insisted that they could win their final two games.
“We have the character and we will fight for every point, we will bounce back and take advantage of the last two games,” the 39-year-old Spaniard said. “The many injuries we have at the back showed tonight, we played sloppy balls and made bad decisions, but you can see the effort of the players. But sometimes we made it difficult for us to be ourselves.”
Wigan had the better of the first half hour against a Swansea side shorn of their leading scorer Michu, who was out injured.
However, despite dominating their only clear-cut chance fell to Ivorian striker Arouna Kone, whose shot came back off the legs of Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
Swansea’s best effort came from a free-kick inside the Wigan penalty area — after Joel Robles picked up a back-pass by Gary Caldwell — but from close range centerback Ashley Williams blasted it high over the bar.
Wigan’s Scottish star Shaun Maloney found the target in the 41st minute with a trademark free-kick, but unfortunately for him it was straight into the arms of Vorm.
However, Vorm could do nothing right on halftime when Honduran Roger Espinoza — who had come into the side for the injured Jean Beausejour — produced a superb volley for his first goal for the club.
Swansea came out with a bit more ambition in the second half and mounted some early pressure, and it paid off in the 50th minute.
Wayne Routledge put a superb ball into the area finding Angel Rangel and the Spanish player, one of the few remaining players at Swansea from the Martinez days, volleyed it home brilliantly, although he kept his celebrations muted out of respect for his former boss.
It took just three minutes for Wigan to regain the lead with a delightful goal, Caldwell striding forward and producing a superb pass for the onrushing James McCarthy, who shot from the edge of the area and beat the diving Vorm.
It should have been 3-1 three minutes later when Kone played a superb ball into the penalty area, but James McArthur failed to connect.
That looked ever more costly as Caldwell passed sloppily to Routledge and the ball eventually fell to Itay Schechter, whose shot took a deflection off Emerson Boyce and flew past Robles for his first goal for the club.
Wigan were denied retaking the lead for a third time in the 68th minute when Vorm produced a superb save to tip over Caldwell’s header, which was going toward the top corner.
Yet again, though, Wigan’s Achilles heel all season, their defending, contributed to the killer goal.
Even with seven players in their own box they failed to clear the ball, and the farcical situation was summed up when McArthur and Maloney went for the same ball, with Maloney’s weak chest down falling to Dwight Tiendali.
The Suriname-born former Netherlands under-21 international’s tame shot bounced before entering the net and with it probably went Wigan’s Premier League status.
Any rhythm the hosts could get back into their play came to a halt when Vorm and Ben Davies required medical attention after a clash of heads, with the Dutch goalkeeper then being taken off on a stretcher.