Wigan Athletic skipper Stephen Warnock has conceded the players have ‘let down the fans and the club’ with their showing this season.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Reading secured an immediate return to League One for Latics, who have been in the bottom three for the majority of the campaign.
It’s a far cry from this time last year, when Latics were securing promotion back to the Championship after only one season in the third tier.
But after a campaign of near-misses and close-calls that have tended to go against them, Latics’ fate was sealed with one match to go.
“Since the start of the season, we have always felt we were in games,” Warnock acknowledged.
“They’ve been finely balanced but, to be honest, it’s been an uphill battle all the way.
“It’s proved that the Championship is a tough league - there is a lot more quality than people expect in this league.
“The table doesn’t lie at the end of the season, though, and overall we haven’t been good enough.
“It’s been horrible for the fans - they’ve backed us as much as they can through a very tough time, and we understand their frustrations.
“We have let them down, we’ve let the club down, and that’s something everybody has to look at themselves for.”
The setback at the Madejski Stadium in many ways underlined exactly why Latics are going down.
After conceding an early goal to Yann Kermorgant, Latics dominated against their high-flying hosts, but were unable to take advantage of a number of great opportunities in front of goal.
“It’s the story of the season,” recognised Warnock.
“Reading are one of the top teams in this league, and we more than matched them and created enough chances to win two or three games.
“We switched off from the corner and they punished us, but ultimately after that we had enough chances to get back in the game and win it.”
Wigan’s misery was compounded when it emerged after the game that the injury that caused Shaun MacDonald’s early substitution was confirmed as a broken tibia and fibula.
“It looked nasty and we felt it was a high challenge,” added Warnock.
“Shaun’s a good lad, an honest lad and I feel for him.
“I have been there myself when I have broken my leg and what goes through your head at that moment in time is horrible.
“The lads and his family will have to get behind him and support him to get back as fit as he can.”