Football: Gifton's rare gift fires up Stoke

Wigan Athletic 0 Stoke City 1 Noel-Williams 39 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 9,938
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The Independent Online
Stoke City extracted full value from their first goal in seven matches, denting Wigan's promotion hopes with one of the Championship's most surprising results of the season. Gifton Noel-Williams's 39th-minute goal did the trick, but Wigan, despite being well below their best, had opportunities both before and after to win the game.

There was little sign of any pattern emerging in a scrappy opening to the game, in which Wigan's notorious pitch played its part in making control difficult.

Jimmy Bullard's sinuous run promised better things, but his shot from range almost hit the corner flag. Lewis Buxton then had to move smartly to make the tackle on Jason Roberts when the Wigan striker was given a glimpse of goal by Alan Mahon's through-ball.

Roberts also had the first genuine attempt on goal after 17 minutes, when his back-heel from Bullard's cross went straight to the Stoke goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen.

The Latics were starting to lay siege to the Stoke penalty area, although they were still without much to show in the way of clear-cut chances. They had one after 24 minutes when Leighton Baines blazed wide after Roberts had pulled the ball back to Bullard.

Wigan generously gave their visitors the ball with which to counterattack, but the lack of confidence in a team who had lost six in a row was all too apparent. The home side almost struck on the break, when Mahon's quickly taken free-kick released Gary Teale, who had time to pick his spot but shot straight at Simonsen.

Six minutes from half-time and diametrically against the run of play, City took the lead. Clive Clarke reached the byline too easily, his pull- back was nudged on by Marcus Hall and Noel-Williams had the goal at his mercy.

It was Stoke's first goal since 17 December, and must have given Paul Jewell plenty to discuss with his Wigan team at half-time. They almost had more to ponder when Noel-Williams got away and hit the goalkeeper rather than pulling the ball back for Carl Asaba.

A series of Stoke players were booked as they became intent on defending their lead by every means available, but Wigan could produce little from a string of free-kicks and corners. The closest they came was a weak volley from Lee McCulloch and Simonsen's save from Roberts.

Noel-Williams again came close at the other end as Wigan remained vulnerable to the quick break; in the end, that rare single goal was enough for Stoke.