LESS than two years after lifting their first major trophy in the FA Cup, Wigan Athletic’s dismal decline reached new heights with relegation to the third tier of English football.
The Latics were relegated from the Premier League just four days after beating 10-man Manchester City 1-0 at Wembley in May 2013.
Highly-rated manager Roberto Martinez then followed several key players out of the DW Stadium to replace David Moyes as Everton boss.
After making a dismal start to life in the Championship under Owen Coyle and struggling to earn an away win for several months, Uwe Rosler made the step up from League One high-flyers Brentford with a vision to guide the Lancashire club back to the big time.
Despite their brief European adventure coming to an end in his first game in charge in Slovenia, the German enjoyed immediate success in turning around Wigan’s fortunes.
The 46-year-old propelled the Latics into the top half of the table and upset the odds at his old club Manchester City to reach the FA Cup semi-finals where only a penalty shoot-out defeat to eventual winners Arsenal prevented them from reaching back-to-back finals.
Rosler led Wigan into the play-offs by virtue of a strong finish to the campaign – including six consecutive wins between February and March – before their promotion hopes were eventually extinguished by the experience of Queens Park Rangers in the semi-final second leg at Loftus Road.
Following another summer clear-out, Wigan have suffered from an enduring hangover and decided to dispense with Rosler’s services in mid-November following a run of one win in 12 league games which left them rooted in the bottom three.
A week later, Latics owner Dave Whelan chose former Watford and Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay as his replacement but the backlash that followed was unforeseeable.
The controversial appointment of the Scot – still under investigation by the FA over derogatory text messages allegedly sent to Bluebirds sporting director Iain Moody – was roundly criticised including the Kick It Out campaign group.
But it also opened up an entirely fresh can of worms as Whelan was charged by the FA and banned for six weeks over apparent racial comments made in a Guardian interview about Chinese people when trying to defend Mackay.
The former JJB Sports owner, who is also a lifelong Latics supporter, then assumed the responsibilities of chairmanship to his 23-year-old grandson David Sharpe just weeks before the axe was wielded on a second manager.
Mackay’s ill-fated spell in charge lasted only 138 days during which he won only five of his 24 league games and left the Latics eight points adrift of safety in the relegation zone.
Although a temporary appointment until the end of the campaign may have seemed the ideal solution, the reins were duly passed on to retired club-captain Gary Caldwell on a permanent basis with Sharpe insisting it was for “the long-term”.
The 32-year-old was forced to end his playing career prematurely following a persistent hip injury and has been thrown into his first managerial job at the deep end tasked with a rebuilding exercise that some of the top coaches would find challenging.
The former Scotland centre-back has, though, signed up with both eyes wide open and relishing the opportunity to get the club he has been part of since January 2010 out of their current predicament.
Not all novices have backfired though as Swansea’s Garry Monk and the Football League’s manager of the decade Eddie Howe at Bournemouth can testify having brought success on different scales to clubs that mean so much to them.
With a lengthy injured list to contend with, a leaky defence and a shot-shy attack, it has been a disastrous campaign all round for the Latics, whose fate was finally sealed on Tuesday night.
Their demotion was inevitably confirmed but even without kicking a ball after Rotherham secured their Championship status with a priceless victory over Reading which also sent Millwall packing.
The statistics do not lie and neither does the table, which has Wigan sat second-from-bottom with nine league wins all season including just two on home soil.
The Latics have won one of their last eight games and head down to west London for their final match of the season against Brentford, who still have a chance of making the play-offs, at Griffin Park on Saturday.
Twelve months ago, Wigan were in a similar boat but are now engulfed in a transitional phase few saw coming as they prepare for life in League One for the first time since 2003.
But he could take solace from the remarkable achievement of Wolves, who won the League One title last term and are in the top half of the Championship after suffering back-to-back relegations from the top-flight.
Transforming the playing squad and trimming the wage bill may be obvious factors, however, changing attitudes and winning habits are easier said than done.
Once the dust has settled and the disappointment has simmered, Wigan Athletic must put the wheels quickly in motion if they are to climb back up the ladder.
Caldwell has potential if not the proven credentials to succeed at the DW Stadium and provide a club well-known for its family and community ties with the much-needed boost it desires.
The last two years cannot be written off and hard work will be required as the Latics seek to make a bold return to where they feel they belong and restore their position – something those in the boadroom insist has to happen at all costs.