Doomsday. The final day of the English football season. Wigan Athletic’s effort and endeavour were to be epitomised on this final treacherous day. The relegation dogfight was in full force and had reached its sky high peak. Today would decide who goes through the pain of relegation and who enjoys the jubilation of survival. To an outsider, such a concept has little meaning. But to every fan affiliated with each club, this day was bigger than any day they’d seen before. The sheer difference between the Premier League and the Championship is painstakingly obvious, like comparing the promised land to the wastelands.
Today would see Wigan Athletic meet Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in what promised to be a scrappy affair, fought with the hearts of every player on their sleeve. It was a wet and miserable day, symbolising the quality of both teams’ seasons. It seemed strange for Wigan to be in this position after their breakout debut season in the Premier League producing such success against all the odds. A comfortable 10th place finish ensured that Wigan would ply their trade in the Premier League for another year with long time hero Paul Jewell commandeering the ship for another term. Their second season did not produce such fruits as Wigan found themselves looking up all season. A summer exodus left Wigan in need of budding talent as well as hard earned experience. With a reshaped squad and a new sense of direction, the club motto of ‘Progress with unity’ seemed more fitting than ever. Huge summer signings such as the tarnished Emile Heskey and the ever present Kevin Kilbane meant that Wigan fans were gearing up for a season of success with a push up the table definitely on the cards. But it was not to be. A poor run of results set Wigan on the slippery slope down to the relegation zone where they spent the majority of the campaign. It had all come down to this final day.
An explosive start to the first half saw Wigan catch an early break when Paul Scharner hammered home a Kevin Kilbane cross to give the visitors the lead in the 14th minute. Wigan continued to pile on the pressure and it was to be Scharner again with a chance on goal as he headed over the top. A rare spell of pressure from Sheffield United saw Jon Stead net, and Wigan fans’ heads drop. A second effort from Stead saw him flash his shot wide from six yards with Blades fans licking their lips as they smelt blood in the water. But it was not to be Sheffield United’s day. A painfully obvious handball presented Wigan with a penalty in the dying embers of the first half. Who else than the man who Sheffield shunned and told he was of no use than to take the spot kick. David Unsworth slotted home and Wigan clinched onto this narrow lead to win the game and secure survival, aided by West Ham’s victory over Manchester United. He had become a hero with that decisive kick of the ball and will be remembered in the hearts of each and every Wigan fan forever.