It was a promotion party out on the pitch, with Dave Whelan looking at the Wigan fans one minute and being plastered with champagne by matchwinner Hugo Rodallega, the next. Stoke were desperate to get their lap of honour going and the stewards tried to remove the tumultuous group but they might as well have whistled them away.
It is almost besides the point that a draw would have saved Wigan. Their story is one of a town with a population of a little more than 81,000, holding its nerve and sticking to a belief that Martinez's passing principles would come good with time. They just about have. A total of 15 points from nine games saved a side who have had a foot in the championship virtually all season and had not surfaced from the bottom two since February. They also struck a blow for passing principles and a spirit of togetherness.
Martinez, whose time playing in football's bottom tier at Springfield Park for Wigan, 16 years ago, made their mission his own mission said that a "stubborn" quality was required to stick to the plan.
The day began with Whelan admitting on national radio that relegation would mean Charles N'Zogbia taking a 50 per cent cut on his £30,000-a-week wages – he would not have stayed – and ended with him watching the Spaniard thrown to the heavens by his players.
"We a small town and a small club but we are a happy club," Whelan said. "We've been in bottom three all season but as you can see we are in good spirits." Wigan might never have returned from relegation. The 74-year-old spent £100m of his JJB retail fortune getting them to the top flight and keeping them there for six seasons.
The club's £39m wages represent 91 per cent of turnover. But now we will we get to see if a 37-year-old manager who impresses so much in what he says can convert promise to achievement.
"We haven't chosen the easy route," Martinez reflected. "It's a great feeling because the squad has been written off many times in this campaign. We knew the talent but in the last two games we had to show more than that we needed real men with real belief. It's a victory for long-term planning."
The manager, in his lucky brown shoes, never clapped his eyes on his dug-out seat. He had spoken so eloquently beforehand about the paralysis of fear, yet as he stood, implacably, arms folded, a few yards behind his technical zone, watching his players go into a huddle, you sensed its cloying presence. Wigan, whose late win against West Ham delivered this last shot at survival, had gone through 74 fixtures without winning back-to-back games and we soon saw why.
Fear was what they displayed, almost from the first kick of the first half, when Antolin Alcarez's painfully timid back pass to Ali Al-Habsi forced him to clear desperately, and to a man, they snapped and snatched at the ball they simply couldn't seize.
There was a dreadful moment after 10 minutes when Kenwyne Jones found the net, though Jon Walters was correctly adjudged offside. It took 28 minutes for Martinez's side to manage a shot on goal. But the manager settled them in the interval, just as he had in the last one. An early second half rally coincided with the knowledge of Tottenham's goal against Birmingham and a thin seam of hope appeared. It might have opened into something more immediately substantial had Jermaine Pennant's clear pull at N'Zogbia, as he raced around him in the box, been detected.
When United's third against Blackpool lifted Wigan out of the bottom three for the first time in three months, the calls of "We are staying up" were still sounding when N'Zogbia accelerated down the Stoke left and lifted an exquisite cross for Rodallega to head home on 78 minutes.
"The hardest thing to have in football is to score from open play like we did today," Martinez rightly observed.
Amid the ensuing euphoria, Martinez did not forget to call to mind the death on Saturday night of supporter, George Owen, who suffered a heart attack during the vital win over West Ham. The Spaniard's own mission goes own. "You have to have your ideas and work at them," he explained. "It doesn't happen overnight."
Substitutes: Stoke Etherington (Whitehead, 72), Carew (Jones, 78). Unused Nash (gk), Shotton, Pugh, Diao, Tonge. Wigan Cleverley (Sammon, 67), Di Santo (Rodallega, 86), Moses (N'Zogbia, 90). Unused Kirkland (gk), Piscu, Gomez, McArthur. Booked: Stoke Etherington. Wigan Alcaraz, McCarthy, Figueroa, Boyce. Man of the match Pennant. Match rating 6/10.
Possession Stoke 58% Wigan 42%. Attempts on target Stoke 5 Wigan 9. Referee A Marriner (W Midlands). Attendance 27,566.
- More about:
- Feet (anatomy)
- French Football
- Premier League
- Southern Europe
- Stoke City
- West Ham United
- Wigan Athletic