Has ex-Wigan chairman Dave Whelan deserted a sinking ship?

Dave Whelan

With the club he bought 20 years ago in deep relegation trouble, what chance do Wigan have of avoiding a return to the third tier of English football?

On Tuesday, Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan announced he was stepping down as chairman of the club and handing over the reins to his 23-year-old grandson David Sharpe. While confirming that the struggling club would remain under his family ownership, it was a strange time to be relinquishing control, just 24 hours before a crucial Sky Bet Championship encounter away at Norwich City on Wednesday night.

Despite Saturday's 3-1 win at basement club Blackpool, Malky Mackay's men remain nine points behind Rotherham United in the relative safety of 21st position, and Whelan's move looks to the outsider like he might have given up.

Whelan bought the Latics in February 1995 and transformed the entire shape and outlook of the club. In 20 years, the successful businessman and entrepreneur has overseen three promotions, an eight-year stay in the Premier League, an FA Cup win and the club's first ever European campaign.

However, the last 12 months has seen Whelan embroiled in controversy following alleged racist comments in the media and the appointment of Malky Mackay as manager, an equally contentious figure. Whelan claimed he would resign as chairman if he was "found guilty of being a racist", but even though the FA found him not guilty of the offence in December 2014, the 78-year-old announced yesterday in a statement to the club's website, that now was the time to go.

This leaves Wigan with 12 games in which to claw back nine points and remain in the Championship for next season. With just two wins at the DW Stadium all season and a resurgent Leeds United to visit on Saturday - plus Watford, Derby and Wolves before the end of the season - Wigan may hope to pick up more points on the road.

Away visits to fellow strugglers Rotherham, Fulham and Millwall look to be absolutely crucial if Wigan are to stand any chance of avoiding the drop. These are interspersed with trips to high-flying Norwich (tonight), Middlesbrough and Brentford before the season's end, so those relegation six-pointers could hold the key to Wigan's survival.

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