The operation was a success but the patient died. This was a surreal afternoon at the DW Stadium.
Ahead of kick-off, the pitch-side announcer repeated that Wigan Athletic were the 2012-13 FA Cup holders. Say it enough times and you might forget the unspoken fact: the same club will spend next season in the Championship. Then at the final whistle, the cup appeared and a lap of appreciation followed. After relegation, it would be wrong for the act to signify honour.
In between, the same old traits were displayed here, thus confirming exactly why both team’s final placings were so dubious. Wigan were easy to watch, passing their way to what would have been a deserved victory had a few moments not disrobed the reality: they are down because too often, the defenders available to Roberto Martínez have not performed well enough.
Villa, meanwhile, will have to improve over the summer or evolve quickly. Otherwise it will be an achievement next season if they do not get sucked down the same plug-hole as Wigan. Paul Lambert admitted that this season has been “really, really tough.”
The goals summed it all up. Villa opened Wigan up far too easily for the first; Román Golobart was rigidly positioned, and Darren Bent fired in. Wigan responded using the width of the pitch. It ended with Emmerson Boyce thumping in a header from Roger Espinoza’s cross. Villa were slow to react to both of Wigan’s full-backs warping forward.
The hosts soon took a lead. Villa could have cleared it twice but instead, Nathan Baker converted into his own net.
Ron Vlaar’s equaliser in the second half was brilliant, volleying in from 18 yards. But even a hulking centre half should not be afforded so much time alone by himself from a set-piece. Boyce and Paul Scharner just stood and looked at one another.
Next season, Wigan’s defensive issues might be someone else’s problem. Martínez confirmed afterwards that he will be meeting owner David Whelan on Monday week before deciding his own future. “We need to reflect at give it a bit of a breather,” he said.