Swansea delivers huge blow to Wigan
WIGAN, England (AP)
The league's perennial escapologist, Wigan would have clambered out of the bottom three with a win but defensive howlers led to Swansea striker Itay Shechter making it 2-2 in the 59th minute and Dwight Tiendalli grabbing a scrappy winner in the 76th.
Wigan is three points from safety with games to come against Arsenal away and Aston Villa at home. It has escaped relegation on the final day in three of the last six seasons but this could be a step too far.
''We have done it before and we can do it again - we can go anywhere in the Premier League and get the points,'' Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said.
The hosts had twice taken the lead at DW Stadium, through Roger Espinoza with the last kick of the first half and then James McCarthy in the 53rd, canceling out Angel Rangel's equalizer three minutes earlier.
Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland, who are all three points clear of Wigan, as well as a host of other clubs above them will have breathed a big sigh of relief when referee Kevin Friend blew for full time after nine minutes of injury time following a serious-looking injury to Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm. The Netherlands international was carried off on a stretcher late on after clashing with teammate Ben Davies in an aerial collision but Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said Vorm wasn't seriously injured.
Wigan has an FA Cup final to look forward to against Manchester City on Saturday but survival in England's lucrative top division is always the priority. The Latics could yet need to beat Arsenal on Tuesday to have a chance of staying in the Premier League for a ninth straight season.
''There are still many twists and turns,'' Martinez said. ''Obviously today was a fantastic opportunity ... but it doesn't change the fact we have to fight for every single point.''
''Ain't No Mountain High Enough'' blared out around DW Stadium as the players warmed up, and fans heartily sang ''I'm A Believer'' as the match kicked off. They know in these parts that Wigan's season doesn't really get going until April - while nerves are jangling across much of the Premier League heading into the final week of the campaign, Martinez and his players are usually at home in this pressurized environment.
Tension got the better of them in an end-to-end second half marked by careless passing and defensive errors, allowing Swansea to come away with all three points when it looked dead and buried at halftime after a lackluster display and Espinoza's volleyed goal in stoppage time.
''It's frustrating the way the match developed,'' Martinez said. ''You have to accept we shot ourselves in the foot.''
Espinoza is new to this relegation scrap having only arrived from MLS side Sporting Kansas City on free transfer in January but briefly made himself a hero to supporters by planting a low shot in at the near post after Vorm could only punch a deep cross out to the edge of the penalty area.
Swansea has lost its way since capturing the League Cup in February, winning just one of nine games with its top-flight status basically secured. And without injured top scorer Michu, the Welsh team should have been there for the taking.
However, Wigan started the second half sloppily and conceded an equalizer when Wayne Routledge span his marker and curled a lofted pass out to Rangel, who met it with an angled volley which flew in off the far post.
That at least served to wake the hosts up and within three minutes they were level with a goal made in Scotland, with McCarthy running onto a pass from fellow national-team player Gary Caldwell and driving a low shot into the net.
More hesitancy in the Wigan defense contributed to Swansea's second equalizer, though. Caldwell's lazy ball out was seized upon by Pablo Hernandez and the Spanish winger fed Shechter, who curled a low, left-footed shot into the corner from the edge of the area.
In a nervy final half-hour, Vorm saved brilliantly from Caldwell's fierce header before Shaun Maloney and James McArthur got in each other's way trying to deal with a cross and Tiendalli swept in from close range.
Even worse for Wigan, Ronnie Stam came off with a suspected broken leg - adding to the team's injury problems ahead of the cup final.