Wigan came up with the unexpected once again in their penultimate home fixture, failing to escape the bottom three before their Wembley weekend by losing what appeared the most winnable of their final three matches. Roberto Martínez's old team Swansea picked up their first win in eight matches to allow people in places such as Newcastle and Norwich to sleep a little more easily, though so abysmal was Wigan's defending in a game they ought to have been psyched up for it made one fearful of what may happen in their real Cup final on Saturday.
Certainly Swansea will have played better than this and lost in recent months, and although Wigan still have a theoretical chance of surviving based on their track record of escapes, the evidence suggests they have not only forgotten how to defend but run out of reliable defenders.
Wigan are so short in that area that Roger Espinoza had to be pressed into service at left wing-back, a position from where he mistimed a pass to Paul Scharner in the third minute and let in Wayne Routledge for the game's first shot on target, comfortably dealt with by Joel Robles.
The home side were beginning to dominate the game as the midpoint of the first half approached, though when the visitors did push forward they almost caught Wigan napping. A good run by Routledge had come to an end by the time Gary Caldwell got an unnecessary touch to the ball, which Robles had committed himself to collecting. The referee, Kevin Friend, deemed it a back-pass and gave a free-kick eight yards in front of goal, though another chapter in Wigan's bulging book of erratic defending was avoided when Ashley Williams' eventual shot sailed skywards over the bar.
Arouna Koné forced a save from Michel Vorm as Wigan began to pile on the pressure, though the incisive passing that served them so well at West Bromwich Albion was largely absent and goalmouth incidents were few and far between, let alone clearcut chances. Wigan play a patient game under Martínez, but Swansea are familiar with that approach too and, unlike the home side, were not greeted with yelps of anxiety from their own fans every time they moved the ball backwards or dallied a fraction too long in defence.
Nevertheless it was going backwards that resulted in Wigan's breakthrough on the stroke of the interval. The ball went all the way back to Caldwell as the first half entered stoppage time, before reaching the right wing where Ben Watson launched a deep cross towards Koné at the far post. Vorm left his line to punch clear, only to find Espinoza just inside the area, for the Honduran to supply an excellent first-time finish with a left-foot volley through a crowd of players to register his first Premier League goal.
Encouraged by some wayward Wigan positioning Swansea increased the urgency at the start of the second half to win a couple of quick corners, before silencing the home crowd with an equalising goal of genuine quality. Routledge's diagonal ball to split the Wigan defence was impressive enough, as was Angel Rangel's skill at staying onside, but the right-foot volley that beat Robles off his far post was even better than Espinoza's effort.
Wigan these days do not let such minor setbacks deter them and within three minutes they were back in front. This time Caldwell supplied a diagonal ball forward along the floor, picking out James McCarthy's run for the midfielder to put a low shot under Vorm. That should have been that, and perhaps would have been had James McArthur managed to touch in Koné's cross from the left, but Wigan invited Swansea back into the game on the hour when Caldwell gave the ball away in his own half. With the entire backline out of position Emmerson Boyce had to come in from the right to challenge Itay Shechter, only succeeding in deflecting the striker's shot so that once again Robles was beaten from the edge of the area.
Vorm produced an outstanding save to deny Caldwell from Shaun Maloney's corner as Wigan sought to take the lead a third time, but Swansea were beginning to produce panic in the home defence every time they crossed halfway.
The winning goal was another home defensive horror story, with McArthur and Maloney failing to deal with a Pablo Hernández cross in the absence of any real centre-backs, and Dwight Tiendalli turning the ball over the line. You cannot really expect to stay in the Premier League if you give away goals like that, and Wigan probably won't.
"They will need to win both their last two games to survive," was Michael Laudrup's opinion. Martínez agreed. "We won't throw in the towel, but we can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot," the Wigan manager said, mixing his cliches to pleasing effect.