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May 15, 2011

West Ham's fate sealed at Wigan

West Ham will be playing Championship football next season after their relegation from the Premier League was confirmed by a dramatic 3-2 defeat at Wigan on Sunday.

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The Hammers needed to win their remaining two games of the season and hope that Birmingham and Blackpool failed to pick up another point, but they threw away a two-goal lead handed to them by Demba Ba. Charles N'Zogbia and Conor Sammon hit back for Wigan, before N'Zogbia won it deep into injury-time to give the Latics a huge chance of avoiding the drop on the final day.

Roberto Martinez's men head to Stoke where they have to close a two-goal deficit to Birmingham, with whom they are now level on points.

Ba grabbed West Ham's first at the DW Stadium, heading home Thomas Hitzlsperger's cross on 13 minutes. By half-time it was 2-0 and it was Ba again, this time helping the ball over the goal-line following James Tompkins' goalbound header.

However, Martinez made a double substitution at half-time, and N'Zogbia gave the Latics a lifeline with a superb 57th-minute free-kick. Sammon then scored his first Wigan goal from Ben Watson's through-ball to restore parity, before Danny Gabbidon should have been sent off for a professional foul.

The match swung from end to end, the Hammers knowing a draw was no good, but Carlton Cole somehow managed to scoop the ball over from three yards in injury-time before N'Zogbia scored a dramatic late winner for Wigan, with Rob Green firmly at fault.

Wigan's survival plight is being helped by Birmingham, who produced arguably their worst performance of the season to lose 2-0 to Fulham at St Andrew's. Blues can still secure their safety at Tottenham on the final day, but on this display Alex McLeish will need 11 new players.

Birmingham wanted a high tempo start in front of their home fans, but they got the opposite, with Clint Dempsey wasting a golden chance from four yards in the opening exchanges. Alex McLeish's men did not react to the danger, and they fell behind in comedy circumstances after five minutes. Mark Schwarzer launched a huge clearance that bounced on the edge of the Birmingham area, and after Ben Foster had to tip over his own bar, Brede Hangeland headed home at the resulting corner.

Bobby Zamora and Dempsey were both then afforded further chances to extend Fulham's lead by a calamitous Birmingham defence, and Zamora allowed another two golden opportunities to get away immediately after half-time. However poorly Birmingham played in the first 45 minutes, they were worse directly after the break and Sidwell added to the glut of chances when striking the woodwork.

A second goal simply had to arrive, and finally it was Hangeland who capitalised on Blues' woeful defending, notching his second of the afternoon in the 49th minute.

Arsenal may have to negotiate a Champions League qualifying round next season after they signed off their home campaign with a disastrous 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners could have moved a point behind second-placed Chelsea, but now they are relying on Manchester City to drop points in one of their final two games if they are to secure automatic entry into the Champions League group stage next season.

Arsene Wenger welcomed back Thomas Vermaelen to his defence after a nine-month absence, but defensive partner Sebastien Squillaci was found woefully short as he went to sleep on the edge of the area for the first goal, allowing Darren Bent to dart behind and volley past Wojciech Szczesny in the 11th minute.

Five minutes later it was 2-0 and this time it was Bacary Sagna getting it all wrong as he played Bent onside, the Villa man sweeping under Szczesny with a first-time effort.

Arsenal inevitably created a handful of good chances, but Robin van Persie was denied first by the linesman's flag and then by a post as Villa clung on to their advantage until half-time. Marouane Chamakh harshly had a header ruled out in the second half as Arsenal laid siege to the Villa goal, and the visitors held firm despite Van Persie's 90th-minute consolation to cap a horror end to the season for Wenger's side.

Steven Taylor scored a last-gasp equaliser as Newcastle held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, although the Blues will still finish second barring a miracle end to the campaign by Manchester City. Having seen their title defence come to an end with Manchester United's draw at Blackburn on Saturday, Chelsea looked set to end the season on a winning note when Alex scored his first goal since October to give Carlo Ancelotti's side a late lead.

But Taylor appeared unmarked in the Chelsea penalty area to head home from close range to secure a point for the Magpies. Branislav Ivanovic had earlier given Chelsea the lead after two minutes, before Newcastle equalised when Ryan Taylor's free-kick took a wicked deflection off team-mate Jonas Gutierrez.

Liverpool celebrated the permanent arrival of Kenny Dalglish as manager prior to kick-off but they may not have European football to look forward to next season after Tottenham inflicted the first home defeat of the Scot's reign with a 2-0 win at Anfield. Talk of a Europa League spot was no more than a pipe dream when Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson, but he has inspired a stunning turnaround, which will ultimately fall short unless Spurs slip up against Birmingham in their final match of the season.

Spurs had controlled their previous fixture, the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, and they started in identical manner on Merseyside. This time they got an early reward, with Rafael van der Vaart sending a delicious volley into the top corner of Pepe Reina's net.

That lead became doubled shortly after half-time thanks to a hugely generous penalty given by Howard Webb, who pointed to the spot after John Flanagan and Steven Pienaar entered into a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge outside the penalty area. With Van der Vaart off injured, Luka Modric stepped up to stroke the penalty down the middle.

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