WIGAN Athletic’s Championship campaign has ended in play-off heartbreak as they went down 2-1 after extra-time at Queens Park Rangers.
After Friday’s first leg ended in a 0-0 stalemate at the DW Stadium, it meant it was a straight knockout at Loftus Road with Derby County awaiting for a Wembley showdown on May 24.
Uwe Rosler’s men led for well over an hour after James Perch’s goal in the ninth minute but a Charlie Austin double either side of full-time put an end to Wigan’s Premier League dream.
The first of his goals came from the penalty spot after Gary Caldwell, who had played so well throughout the evening, brought down Junior Hoilett.
The defeat ends a long 62-game season for Latics that has included an historic inclusion in the Europa League and another memorable run in the FA Cup.
In truth, Wigan were on the back foot for the majority of the game at Loftus Road as they defended their early 1-0 advantage and tired legs took their toll.
Their lead came in the opening 10 minutes thanks to some solid refereeing by Mark Clattenburg.
Callum McManaman was brought down on the edge of the QPR area but the official played advantage, allowing James McClean to put in an inch-perfect cross for Perch to fire home inside the six-yard box, sending the away end behind Scott Carson’s goal into raptures.
Wigan didn’t seem intent on sitting on their lead though and attacked when they could, albeit a lot on the counter attack.
QPR huffed and puffed at Carson’s goal but struggled to break down Uwe Rosler’s side in the opening half.
Latics had a penalty shout after 23 minutes when McClean darted into the area, taking the ball around Rob Green and going to ground. However, Clattenburg immediately - and correctly - booked the Irishman for diving.
The noise levels inside Loftus Road went up a notch and the hosts twice came close as Nico Kranjcar’s fierce effort was palmed away by Carson and Gary O’Neil’s shot went just wide.
The ever-dangerous Austin thought he’d scored from a corner just minutes later but McClean was on the line to keep it out with the rebound coming off Nedum Onuoha and sailing out for a goal-kick.
As Wigan fans began to catch their breath, Austin fired another effort over the bar. Nails in the away end were already worn down as the referee blew up for half-time. The only negative of the first 45 minutes was an injury to James McArthur with him being replaced by Roger Espinoza.
The nerves weren’t eased much after the break with QPR well on top from the off.
Emmerson Boyce, Caldwell and Rob Kiernan were absolute rocks at the back, batting away cross after cross that was put into the Latics box.
Joey Barton’s corner was almost turned in by O’Neil before Junior Hoilett’s effort was just wide.
From nowhere, Wigan almost doubled their lead. After some great work by Espinoza, McClean was put through, firing his first effort at Green. The ball then rebounded back onto the winger who struggled to get a firm shot off inside the six-yard box as it hit the post and went out for a goal-kick.
The London side, clearly rattled, marched down to the other end of the pitch and Hoilett let loose another fierce effort which sailed just over the bar.
Rangers did get their equaliser with less than 20 minutes remaining. After some neat passing, Hoilett was brought down just inside the area by Caldwell and Austin slotted home the spot kick.
The Scottish defender was injured in the process and replaced by Leon Barnett.
With both sides rattled, a wounded Latics went straight on the attack with Martyn Waghorn, who had not long since replaced McManaman, firing straight at Green.
The substitute had another great chance shortly after when his goal-bound effort was blocked after a Wigan corner.
The game was now totally opened up as QPR went for the win with Hoilett again firing just wide before Bobby Zamora’s chip over Carson was just over the bar.
Wigan’s ‘keeper than had to pull off another great save from a curling Barton shot that was destined for the bottom corner.
There was no room for either side to make changes as the referee blew up for full-time with both managers using all three substitutes in the 90 minutes.
Disaster stuck with extra-time just six minutes old as Zamora whipped in a dangerous cross from the right for Austin to prod home after evading Barnett.
As Latics’ legs tired they pushed forward when they could to try and force the match into a penalty shootout. Their best effort came on another counter-attack with seven minutes to play when McClean, with two men to his right, opted to shoot rather than pass and squandered a great opportunity.
There was late drama as the clock ticked down. Kiernan fired a thunderbolt that was deflected inches wide to prompt three back-to-back Wigan corners.
Up came Carson but as each one came in QPR defended valiantly and as the ball was finally cleared, the referee blew for full-time.
Latics: Carson; Boyce, Caldwell, Kiernan; Perch, McArthur, Gomez, Beausejour; McManaman, Maloney, McClean.
Subs: Al Habsi, Crainey, Barnett (for Caldwell 75), Espinoza (for McArthur, 36), Collison, Maynard, Waghorn (for McManaman 71).
QPR: Green; Simpson, Onouha, Dunne, Hill; Hoilett, Barton, Doyle, O’Neil, Krancjar; Austin.
Subs: Morrison (for O’Neil 69), Yun (for Hill, 50), Hughes, Henry, Zamora (for Doyle 64), Murphy, Benayoun.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
FOR MATCH REACTION SEE TUESDAY’S WIGAN EVENING POST AND THIS WEEK’S OBSERVER