Wigan Athletic 3 // West Ham United 2
WIGAN // When Wigan Athletic visited Upton Park in November, West Ham United branded it "Save our Season" day. Now it is beyond salvation, a day of demotion and dismissal culminating in the departure of their manager, Avram Grant.
Unemployment is the reward for underachievement. There was no great escape, no reprieve, no consolation to be taken from a shockingly bad season. They have gone down to the Championship with a team whose pedigree - not to mention their wage bill and spending on signings - suggested a top-half finish was feasible.
Instead, they are officially the league's worst side, one who contrived to squander a two-goal lead against relegation rivals and lose.
It was a match to sum up West Ham's slide; by taking one point from seven games, they have squandered a promising position.
The consequences were swift and brutal: Grant was gone within the hour. The messages from the directors' box and the away fans, chorusing insults, were uniformly negative, the only support a taunt from the sky.
Minutes after Conor Sammon scored the goal to effectively demote West Ham, a passing plane trailed a banner reading: "Avram Grant Millwall legend", no doubt sent by fans of rivals Millwall, a team they will face next season.
"Whatever people will want to say, it's OK," Grant said, conducting a press conference while his employers determined his future. "Football is a game of results. My job was to keep the team in the league and I failed. I take responsibility."
Magnanimous as that sounded, few were in any doubt the Israeli was culpable. A familiar list of excuses followed, incorporating the club's financial situations and injuries, along with refereeing decisions.
He disputed another yesterday, for the free kick that led to Wigan's first goal: not for the first time, his claims did not stand up to scrutiny. West Ham's co-owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, almost sacked him in January. Four months later, they pulled the trigger.
Thus, in all probability, ends a managerial career in England that has been a curiosity - his mumbling persona bemused many - but has resulted in abject failure at Upton Park. This was his second successive demotion, after Portsmouth tumbled a division 12 months ago and, if he escaped censure then, there was no repeat.
West Ham's frustrations have increased in his ill-fated reign. They were apparent again, from supporters causing significant damage to the toilets in the away end to Scott Parker's post-match confrontation with Wigan supporters who had staged a pitch invasion. He had to be restrained by his coaches.
It was a day of extreme emotions. Wigan, when trailing 2-0, were all but relegated themselves.
They rallied, staging an extraordinary comeback and ending the match amid scenes of jubilation
The normally restrained Wigan manager Roberto Martinez was on the pitch after Charles N'Zogbia's 94th-minute winner. "Today's game was something unique, a unique moment in our history," Martinez said.
Three points may be needed at Stoke City on Sunday to rescue his side, but they have earned a chance that appeared impossible.
"At half time it was a real, real mountain to climb," Martinez added. His side trailed to two Demba Ba headers, with Thomas Hitzlsperger involved in both goals.
Wigan rallied. N'Zogbia's rising free kick flew past Robert Green. Ben Watson then set up Sammon, who turned and shot to defeat the goalkeeper. When Ben Watson's 90th-minute shot hit the post and rebounded to Green, victory seemed to have eluded them.
Instead, N'Zogbia fired in an effort that Green allowed to squirm in. A lifeline for Wigan brought the death knell for Grant.