Football: Payton preserves Wigan's lofty place

Wigan Athletic 1 Haworth 41 Burnley 1 Payton 17 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 11,986
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The Independent Online
WIGAN PRESERVED their unbeaten record and retained the Second Division leadership, but they will face few sterner tests of their hopes of stepping up to the next level for the first time in their history.

In front of their biggest ever League crowd of 11,986, they came from behind to share the points with their neighbours in a game which suggested that neither of these promotion candidates from football's historic heartland would be out of their depth in more exulted company.

With Wigan, the League's last remaining unbeaten club, leading the way and only Preston separating them from Burnley, the old Lancashire cotton towns are again experiencing the sort of success to which they were once accustomed, albeit at a more modest level.

Around 5,000 made the short journey from Burnley to the JJB Stadium but while their players were striving to bring back the good old days, a small contingent of their supporters were intent on a return to the bad old days of football hooliganism.

Even a local derby leaves this 25,000 capacity venue, which Athletic share with Wigan Rugby League club, half empty and Burnley's fans surged into the vacant East Stand in an attempt to confront Wigan supporters. That police in riot gear were needed to drive them back will raise questions about why England's newest stadium does not seem capable of segregating rival supporters.

On the pitch, Wigan seemed to be more intimidated by their own unbeaten record, something which many sides before them have found a mixed blessing at this stage of the season. They played like batsmen in the nervous nineties, concentrating on defence and allowing Burnley to take the game to them.

Half an hour had gone before the home side risked a shot, which came inevitably from the division's leading scorer, Stuart Barlow, but by then the visitors were already ahead.

Burnley were passing the ball around neatly and launching attacks down the flanks to wingback Dean West and wide midfielder Glen Little. They should have gone ahead when their experienced defender Mitchell Thomas narrowly failed to turn in Andy Payton's header at the far post, but their pressure was rewarded after 16 minutes. Paul Cook won a corner on the right, Wigan failed to clear, and Little knocked it back into the penalty area for Payton to score.

Conceding a goal was perhaps the incentive Wigan needed, and they drew level four minutes before the interval. Barlow made a powerful run down the right, Ian Kilford headed on his cross and Simon Haworth steered it home.

Wigan now showed why their more direct approach has brought them success. They began lobbing long balls out to Andy Liddell on the right wing, and his pace and the precision of his crosses exposed the Burnley defence. Haworth wasted a free header and had a shot charged down as Wigan reversed the polarity of the first half to dominate the second.

Barlow shot wildly over and the Burnley goalkeeper, Paul Crichton, had to justify his reputation as a shot-stopper, getting down well to deny Payton, Haworth and the substitute Roberto Martinez. And luck was on his side when Barlow beat him to a through ball only to flick it wide of the target.

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