Already-relegated Wigan bowed out of the Premier League with a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at the DW Stadium.
Roberto Martinez’s FA Cup winners conceded in just the fifth minute as Darren Bent celebrated a rare start with a clinical finish, but Villa’s lead did not last long as Latics captain Emmerson Boyce equalised with a powerful header.
A goalmouth scramble culminated in Nathan Baker inadvertently turning the ball into his own net on the stroke of half-time to give Wigan the lead, but a stunning volley from skipper Ron Vlaar gave Villa a share of the points as the hosts had to settle for a draw in their final match in the top flight.
In what has been speculated to be Martinez’s final game in charge of the club, there was no relegation showdown to be found after Wigan’s defeat to Arsenal in midweek ensured that they would be bidding farewell to the Premier League after an eight-year spell, while Villa finished up in 15th place with their top-flight status already secure.
Ali Al Habsi started in goal for the Latics as Joel dropped to the substitutes’ bench, while Roman Golobart and FA Cup-winning goalscorer Ben Watson were handed starting berths; for Aston Villa, 14-goal striker Christian Benteke was sidelined with Bent given a rare spot in the starting line-up.
Villa had won five of their previous nine games coming into the match and Paul Lambert’s side were in front as early as the fifth minute as Bent latched on to a through ball from Gabriel Agbonlahor to slam an emphatic finish beyond Al Habsi for his first league goal since September.
The mercurial Arouna Kone should have equalised 10 minutes later after Shaun Maloney slipped a delightful through ball beyond Baker and into the path of the forward, only for him to stumble over and squander a clear-cut opportunity.
A minute later there were vociferous appeals for handball as Jordi Gomez's pass struck Villa captain Vlaar on the arm inside the box, but referee Neil Swarbrick was not impressed and waved play on.
In the 19th minute, the 4,000 travelling Villa fans all paid tribute to their former captain on 'Stan Petrov Day' by wearing masks of his face, in support of Cure Leukaemia, and applauding the midfielder.
Wigan were not behind for long, and Boyce – skipper for the day and the club’s longest serving player - levelled the scores with a powerful header after ghosting into the Villa box to meet Roger Espinoza's pinpoint cross from the left flank in the 21st minute.
Villa continued to have the better of the play, breaking incessantly at pace from deep, but the visitors fell behind on the stroke of half-time in unfortunate fashion as Baker turned a loose ball into the back of his own net after shots from Roman Golobart and Watson were both cleared off the line in a mad goalmouth scramble.
The hosts should have given themselves a two-goal cushion as Espinoza did superbly to jink his way to the left byline before dinking over a precise cross, but Boyce only managed to volley crisply against the crossbar from six yards out.
The defender would be left to rue his profligate effort from close range as Villa scored a minute later. Vlaar took down a deep free kick from Joe Bennett very coolly before he unleashed a rasping volley from the edge of the box which arrowed into the top corner of the net, beating Al Habsi comprehensively.
Wigan almost ended their campaign on a high with a late winner but James McArthur was denied by the crossbar after he coolly sidefooted a volley towards the top corner from the edge of the Villa box after having met Espinoza’s deep delivery first time.
Wigan needed a point from the game to avoid this being their worst ever points tally in a Premier League season, and Martinez’s side at least managed that as a celebratory pitch invasion marked an FA Cup-winning campaign, albeit one mixed with relegation from the top flight.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Ron Vlaar – Aston Villa: The captain produced a stunning volley to salvage a share of the points for his side and led superbly at the back to ensure that Wigan could not claim victory despite relentless pressure.
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