“I’M off home to watch Match of the Day,” smiled Emmerson Boyce, as Wigan Athletic’s ‘Great Escape – 2011’ party was threatening to get into full swing at the Wrightington Hotel on Sunday night.
“I’ll leave this to the young ones ... I’ve been here before.”
Given the amount of sore heads in the Wigan area on Monday morning, Boycey probably made the right decision in making an early dart.
When it comes to fighting relegation battles, the man famously labelled ‘My Steady Eddie’ by former boss Steve Bruce has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt.
Having come up short with Crystal Palace in 2005 – when injury ensured he was a frustrated spectator for the final few weeks of the campaign – he has now sampled two ‘Great Escapes’ with Latics.
And the sole on-field survivor from that memorable afternoon at Bramall Lane in 2007 admits the 2011 version –though very different – was equally as special.
Boyce told the Observer: “At Sheffield, we had to wait for a final whistle before we knew we were safe, but this time we almost knew we were okay when we went 1-0 up.
“We we very confident Manchester United would beat Blackpool, and confident enough Birmingham wouldn’t beat Tottenham, so once we went ahead we were okay.
“It was a strange atmosphere in that second half, because one minute our fans were celebrating then the Stoke fans were, and we didn’t really know what was going on.
“But it was such a feeling of relief at the end, another year in the Premier League.
“That’s seven years now, which is a remarkable achievement for a club this size – and we’re going in the right direction.”
There’s little doubt that Latics have been heading in the right direction ever since Roberto Martinez took the helm two summers ago.
The Spaniard has completely changed the philosophy of the club both on and off the field, while at the same time reducing the wage bill to a far more manageable level.
A return of 42 points, compared to 36 last term, is clear evidence of the progress being made, and Boyce believes Latics will be stronger for this dramatic flirt with relegation.
“The last couple of years have been a learning process – we’ve played some good football but we’ve let ourselves down on occasions as well,” he acknowledged. “It’s all part of the learning curve, and we’ll emerge from it a better and stronger football club.
“Maybe in the past we’d have crumbled at Stoke in such a big game, but we continued to play our football and we got our rewards.
“You can’t always play your football, and in the first half we had to dig in and hang on. We couldn’t string two passes together.
“You could say we rode our luck at times, but you earn your luck in this game and after 38 games it’s about time we had some luck.
“Look at Blackpool and Birmingham – they only dropped into the bottom three right at the end.
“We’d been there for a while, but that probably favoured us – because the only way we could go was up.
“Against West Ham last week, especially in the first half, I started to doubt whether we could stay up.
“But to get that result was massive – and there was no way we were going to let it slip on the last day.”
Boyce certainly did all he could to make sure Latics didn’t let it slip with a crucial goal-line clearance early in the piece that kept his side in it.
He and his defensive colleagues had to show every bit of grit and determination with the FA Cup runners-up throwing everything including the kitchen sink at their opponents in a completely one-sided first half.
After the break it was a different story as Latics began to use to the wind to their advantage, resulting in Hugo Rodallega’s dramatic winning goal that sent the 1,400-strong away end into raptures.
“Hugo will take the plaudits but I don’t care. All that matters is that we’re in the Premier League, and we’ve done it,” Boyce reflected, on a job well done.
“We knew how Stoke play, and we were ready for it.
“A lot of top teams have gone there and come away with bad results, and we knew they weren’t going to do us any favours with the team they picked.
“The manager told us we had to stand up like men, and we did just that.
“We’ll can only learn from experiences like this, too – the main thing being we don’t want to ever be in a position like this again!
“It’ll be interesting to see which players come in and which players leave, but the nucleus of the squad will remain and we want to move on as a football club.
“We’re becoming more and more of a harder team to beat and it’s important we continue that next season.”
As he settled down to enjoy Match of the Day “for a change”, Boyce’s celebrations were tempered by the fact Wigan’s survival had come partly at the expense of his cousin, Blackpool winger Matt Phillips. Having sampled last-day disappointment, the 31-year-old knew exactly how Phillips would be feeling, and was keen to avoid being seen to be revelling in his cousin’s misfortune.
“It’s been a weird day,” he recognised.
“Matthew went down with Blackpool, so the family celebrations will be quieter than it would ordinarily have been.
“He’s young, though, he’ll be back, and he’s got a great career ahead of him.
“I’ve told him he’s only 20 and his whole career’s ahead of him, whereas I’ve only got a few years left.
“We knew what was going to happen, we knew it would go down to the wire and it could turn out to him them or us. At the end of the day, we stayed up, they went down, but that’s life – get on with it.”