BEN Watson hailed the calming presence of Roberto Martinez as the decisive factor in Wigan Athletic retaining their Premier League status.
A 79th-minute header from Hugo Rodallega helped Latics record a 1-0 victory at Stoke to extend their top-flight adventure into a seventh season.
The build-up to ‘Survival Sunday’ had been almost unbearable, with the financial stakes so high in the game these days. Martinez, though, maintained all along his side would have enough to stave off the threat of relegation – and he was proved right in the closing minutes of an unforgettable campaign.
“The gaffer’s been brilliant,” Watson told the Evening Post. “He’s been so calm and I think that rubs off on the players. He approached this as a normal game – it was like we were at the start of a season – and that’s just the way he is as a person. He told us to play the game and not the occasion, and maybe in the first half we played the occasion – but in the second half we played the football game.
“And it’s a massive result – not just for us but for the manager, the chairman, the staff, the fans, everyone.
“We’ve been working so hard for the past year, and this probably sums up Wigan Athletic.
“We’ve not won back-to-back games for two years, and then we manage to do it the last two games of the season. This is the best league in the world, and we’re in it for another season. It means everything.”
Watson played a key role in the winner, releasing Maynor Figueroa down the left, with Rodallega finishing the Honduran’s inch-perfect cross with aplomb.
It capped an amazing second half of the campaign for a player who struggled to get much game-time in the first half of the season, but who finished the campaign as one of the first picks on the team sheet.
“It was a frustrating first half of the season for me personally, and I didn’t play anywhere near as many games as I’d have liked,” Watson, pictured [inset] celebrating yesterday’s win with James McCarthy, admitted.
“But I kept going, I was patient, I trained hard and when I did get my chance in the side I got my rewards.
“It was pleasing to be involved in the winning goal.
“Maynor put a great ball in and Hugo’s put away a great header.
“Once we went one goal up, I fancied us to hang on – and fortunately we did.”
The joyous scenes at the end looked a long way off at half-time, when Latics were lucky to be on level terms after the home side threw everything at their opponents.
But Watson says the victory was testament to Wigan’s ability to dig in and put their bodies on the line in defence – and in doing so become the first away team to prevent Stoke from scoring at the Britannia this term.
“The win didn’t help – in the first half we couldn’t get out of our half, and you saw that with Stoke in the second half,” he added.
“But with the wind we played our football and we managed to create a few chances and fortunately we were able to take one.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game – you never get an easy game when you come to Stoke.
“They were the best team in the first half and we had to hang on, but after the break I thought we were the better side and thankfully we managed to get the winner.”