A damp, dark afternoon in the Lancashire drizzle hardly had the feel of a historic occasion but the record books now need rewriting. Since the Premier League's inception in 1992, 45 clubs have started 426 campaigns between them. Only one has begun by going 16 games without a win. This Queens Park Rangers team have plumbed depths that even Swindon's slow starters of 1993-94, who failed to record a victory in their first 15 matches, did not. They are in uncharted territory.
"You don't go that amount of games without winning if you are that good," Harry Redknapp said. He remains unbeaten in his brief reign, three games at the helm producing as many points, but this was a spurned opportunity nonetheless. When Djibril Cissé, who secured their last victory against Stoke seven long months ago, slid them into the lead, they sensed a belated action replay. Instead a depleted Wigan teamwho, to borrow one of Redknapp's favourite clichés, were down to the bare bones, rallied and James McCarthy scored his second goal to extend Rangers' long wait.
They are running out of time, if only for the recruitment drive Redknapp envisages in January. "If we don't win a game or two [before then], I wouldn't ask the owners to spend any more money," he said. "It would be unfair." Nevertheless, Robbie Keane's bubbly character and proven goalscoring record appeal. "I'd love to get Robbie," Redknapp said, eyeing a loan deal from LA Galaxy. "He's the type of lad you need in this situation. But I haven't spoken to anybody."
Yet Rangers' star-studded buying contrasts with Wigan's more economical policies and this was an advertisement for the manager Roberto Martínez's approach. Both Wigan goals came from McCarthy, signed from Hamilton as a comparatively unknown 18-year-old. He was incisive and, twice, decisive. "He is a top player," Martínez said. "His attacking play was outstanding. He has got the potential to play anywhere in the world."
His goals bookended the game, the second earning a point when he beat Robert Green with a precise poke. The opener was a drilled volley, clipping off Jamie Mackie's foot, after the Scot had headed a corner away. The fault, however, lay with Adel Taarabt who failed to react. "The man on the edge of the box stands there picking his nose," Redknapp said.
Yet this was part relegation battle, part scientific experiment. A side without strikers – Cissé began on the bench while Redknapp complained about a lack of balance in the squad he inherited from Mark Hughes – faced a team without a defence. Shorn of four centre-backs – two injured, two suspended – Wigan's trio comprised a reserve, a relocated right-back and a central midfielder, in Adrian López, Emmerson Boyce and David Jones respectively.
While Jones almost scored twice, López erred for the two goals Rangers did get. He lost Ryan Nelsen when the Rangers captain met Taarabt's corner with a powerful header to open his account for the club. Scored emphatically, it was celebrated energetically. "They get a free header the first time they come into our box," Martínez said.
Then, following a period of Wigan dominance, López misplaced a pass, Boyce was robbed by Stéphane Mbia and Shaun Wright-Phillips set up Cissé to sidefoot in. "We scored against the run of play," Redknapp said. "I thought maybe it was going to be our lucky day."
Fortune had already favoured Rangers when Jordi Gómez's shot bounced back off the bar. Nevertheless, Rangers were still grateful to their goalkeeper for procuring a point. "Robert Green had an outstanding game," said Martínez, remembering saves from Jones, McCarthy and the substitute Mauro Boselli. It earned the goalkeeper, along with Nelsen, praise from Redknapp. "You'd have them in your team all day long," said the manager. "If you had 11 of them you wouldn't have a problem."
As it is, they have unprecedented difficulties. "We just need that one win," Redknapp said. "It could kickstart it." He has proved an expert at escapology before and remains the master of the one-liner. How many points did he think it would take to keep QPR up? "I'm hoping it's going to be about 14," came the reply. He is halfway there.