WIGAN Athletic’s European dream came to an end in controversial fashion.
A gutsy and new-look Latics were forced to play the majority of their 2-1 defeat against NK Maribor with 10 men after Chris McCann was sent off in astonishing circumstances.
After already picking up a harsh yellow card, the Irishman was then shown a second one for apparently handling the ball deliberately in the area with replays suggesting it was accidental.
It gave Dejan Mezga the chance to equalise from the spot just two minutes after Jordi Gomez had given Wigan the lead from a penalty at the other end.
Zeljko Filipovic struck a wonder-goal in the second half to put Maribor in the lead and send them through to the last 32 of the competition with Zulte Waregem losing to Rubin Kazan.
A win for Latics, in Uwe Rosler’s first game in charge, would have been enough to send them through but they were cruelly denied.
There were more than 1,000 away fans in the Stadion Ljudski vrt and they were superb throughout, dancing along to Slovenian music before the game making plenty of noise to get behind their team.
The change of style was apparent from the off, with Latics playing the possession game again punting very few balls long and frustrating their hosts.
Maribor pressed Wigan in the early stages and mustered three long-range effort that weren’t going to trouble Scott Carson.
Latics also spent some time in the final third and with Roger Espinoza and Jean Beausejour putting a few good crosses into the box but there was nobody on the end of them.
Nick Powell was the first Wigan player to have a shot after 15 minutes but his fierce half-volley was just over the crossbar.
The word “whistle-happy” would certainly be an understatement when describing Polish referee Szymon Marciniak who had both Espinoza and McCann in the book in the opening quarter of the game. Both decisions were harsh.
Latics ended the first half on top, playing some great football and really testing the Maribor defence.
Gomez came agonisingly close in the 36th minute after being fouled right on the edge of the box. The Spaniard brushed himself down and hit a sweet free-kick which struck the post.
Latics continued to press and got a deserved lead after Powell was brought down in the area in the 40th minute. Up stepped Gomez again who coolly slotted home Wigan Athletic’s first ever away goal in European history.
Unfortunately the joy was short-lived thanks to the referee who seemed determined to become the star of the show.
Damijan Bohar’s shot was blocked by McCann’s arm and a penalty was correctly given but to the surprise of everybody inside the ground, Simundza produced a second yellow card.
As McCann made his way down the tunnel and Latics fans continued to berate the referee, Carson did well to get a hand on Mezga’s spot-kick but the winger tapped in the rebound.
Rosler sent on Ben Watson for McManaman at the break in a bid to firm up Wigan’s presence in midfield.
Maribor came out flying though, putting some good, early pressure on Latics but it was the visitors who had the first chance.
Some nice football involving Espinoza played through James Perch who crossed for Powell but the Manchester United loanee stabbed it wide.
The hosts continued to press, Nusmir Fajic first coming close when his shot was just over before they took the lead.
Perch was caught in possession at the back for Wigan and Maribor attacked, the ball eventually falling to Filipovic who fired a wonderful strike into the top corner.
Maribor’s man advantage was clear and they were determined to make the most of it putting Latics under a lot of pressure, particularly down the wings.
They came close to extending their lead when Carson saved Fajic’s header.
Rosler then bolstered Wigan’s attack with the addition of Marc Antoine-Fortune who replaced Powell.
Latics began to throw everything forward and came close when Watson’s effort was saved after some good work by Espinoza and Fortune.
As news started to filter around the ground that Rubin Kazan, cheers erupted from the home end as it meant the victor of this game would go through to the last-32.
Maribor had put up a superb defensive performance to keep Latics out.
Jasmin Handanovic produced a superb save as the clock ticked down to deny Fortune as Wigan’s European dream faded away.
NK Maribor: Handanovic, Filipovic, Milec, Mezga, Tavares, Fajic, Rajcevic, Viler, Bohar, Arghus, Mertelj
Subs: Pridigar, Mejac, Zahovic, Mendy (for Fajic 85), Vuklisevic, Cvijanovic (for Tavares 78), Crnic (for Mezga 82)
Latics: Carson, Perch, Rogne, Barnett, Beausejour, McArthur, Gomez, McCann, McManaman, Espinoza, Powell
Subs: Nicholls, Crainey, Shotton, Boyce (for McArthur 75), Watson (for McManaman 45), Meadows, Fortune (for Powell 65)
Referee Szymon Marciniak (POL)