Blackpool and Birmingham were relegated from the Premier League on Sunday as Wigan and Wolves scrambled to safety in a thrilling finale to the English season.
Blackpool’s fairytale debut season in the top-flight came to an end at Old Trafford where they were beaten 4-2 by champions Manchester United while Birmingham were sent down after losing 2-1 at Tottenham.
The epicentre of the drama came at Molineux, where Wolves looked to be heading for humiliation against Blackburn after Jason Roberts, Brett Emerton and Junior Hoilett put Rovers 3-0 up at half-time.
But Mick McCarthy’s men were thrown a lifeline when Jamie O’Hara scored on 73 minutes to make it 3-1 before Stephen Hunt pulled another goal back for Wolves three minutes from time.
At that stage Hunt’s goal would have been enough to send Birmingham down on goals scored as the Blues held Spurs 1-1 at White Hart Lane after Craig Gardner cancelled out Roman Pavlyuchenko’s opener for Tottenham.
Pavlyuchenko’s second goal of the afternoon in the 90th minute was the final nail in the coffin as the League Cup winners’ two-year stay in the Premier League came to a heart-breaking end.
“We’re pretty gutted obviously,” Birmingham boss Alex McLeish told Sky Sports. “I thought we’d done it when we scored. The way it happened is absolutely devastating. But it wasn’t to be. Lady Luck avoided us today.”
Wolves boss McCarthy was jubilant.
“I didn’t envisage it being such a stressful day, but we’re still in the Premier League - fabulous,” McCarthy said.
At Old Trafford, Blackpool had dared to dream of a stunning upset over United when goals from Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher fired the Seasiders into a 2-1 lead following Park Ji-Sung’s early opener.
But an equaliser from Brazilian midfielder Anderson was followed by an Ian Evatt own goal before Michael Owen wrapped up a 4-2 victory that sent Ian Holloway’s popular minnows back to the Championship next season.
“This is a special group down here and we’re very disappointed right now,” a dejected Holloway said.
“After taking the lead, we had started to believe we can do this. You saw the way we played, the chances we created, we’ve got to take those.
“But United brought on Wayne Rooney, they’re used to winning and we lost out. That aside, we’ve been absolutely outstanding and it’s hard to take.
“It’s devastating. I actually don’t think we deserved it. But that’s life. We didn’t lose it here, we lost it at other places I’m afraid.”
Wigan, who had started the day second from bottom, meanwhile completed their Houdini act when a Hugo Rodallega goal on 78 minutes gave them a priceless 1-0 win over Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.
The victory gave Wigan back-to-back wins for the first time this season, and followed last weekend’s remarkable escape act when they came from 2-0 down to beat West Ham 3-2.
“It’s been the hardest Premier League season to stay up and it’s an amazing, amazing achievement to do it,” Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said.
In other results Sunday, Manchester City made sure of automatic qualification to the Champions League after goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko handed them a 2-0 win at Bolton.
But a dismal season for Arsenal finished with a 2-2 draw at Fulham, where goals from Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott cancelled out strikes from Steve Sidwell and Bobby Zamora.
The result left Arsenal in fourth place and means Arsene Wenger’s men must go through qualifying to reach next season’s Champions League group stage.
Elsewhere, Chelsea finished runners-up to United despite suffering a 1-0 defeat at Everton who scored through Jermaine Beckford.
Liverpool’s season ended with a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa which saw them finish in sixth place and means the Merseysiders will miss out on European football next season for the first time in 11 years.
In other results, West Bromwich Albion fought back from 3-0 down to secure a 3-3 draw at Newcastle while already-relegated West Ham were routed 3-0 at home by Sunderland.