Football: Wycombe close to safety

Wycombe Wanderers 2 Wigan Athletic 1

THE BUGLE call which blares out over the loudspeakers at key moments during matches at Adams Park may well have been heralding Second Division safety for Wycombe last night.

Like the cavalry riding over the horizon, Sean Devine and Paul Emblen came to their rescue by scoring either side of half-time after Simon Haworth's 14th goal of the season had given Wigan hope. The visitors' woes were compounded by the 87th-minute dismissal of Michael O'Neill for a second bookable offence in the space of four minutes.

Wycombe thus equalled their highest position of the season, 20th, pushing Oldham back into the bottom four in the process, and will survive if they win at Lincoln on Saturday. Wigan can still reach the First Division, but even if they beat Chesterfield at home, they must rely on Bournemouth failing to defeat Wrexham in order to extend their season.

Both teams knew that a victory would put them in their desired position for the final games of the "regular" season - Wycombe out of the relegation zone; Wigan in the play-off places.

Winning them is easier said than done when you have spent only five days outside the bottom four since August, which was Wycombe's record; or when you are playing for the sixth time in 12 days, as Wigan were.

Lawrie Sanchez, the former Wimbledon FA Cup-winner, has coaxed Wycombe into mid-table form since taking over as manager in February. They have also scored more goals than any of their fellow stragglers, though they were made to toil for their reward on this occasion

Wigan, whose willingness to cover and harry their opponents initially belied their leg-weariness, allowed them only half-chances until first- half stoppage time.

Devine - third in Wycombe's player of the year poll despite having arrived from Barnett as recently as March - managed to flick a header by Jamie Bates goalward after 14 minutes, but could get no power behind the ball and Gareth Griffiths ushered it to safety.

Roy Carroll, Wigan's widely coveted goalkeeper, had to sprint to the edge of his area 13 minutes later when Colin Greenall's back-header fell short. Emblen nicked it past him only to find the angle too difficult and sent his shot over the bar.

Wigan scored from their first sustained attack in the 38th minute. Martin Taylor could not hold Andy Porter's drive, enabling Haworth to steer in the loose ball.

Haworth pulled his shot wide when clean through a minute before half- time. The miss proved costly as Wycombe equalised immediately, Devine firing in via a post after Emblen's sharp turn in a crowded box confounded Wigan.

While Wycombe's second goal, four minutes after the break, was ultimately fortuitous, it stemmed from a splendid build up. A deep cross by Matt Lawrence was headed back by Dave Carroll to the edge of the area, from where Keith Ryan shot powerfully. Paul Emblen, sticking out a foot, managed to change the trajectory of the ball and leave Roy Carroll wrong-footed.

Wycombe Wanderers (4-3-3): Taylor; Lawrence, Bates, Forsyth, Vinnicombe; Simpson, Ryan, D Carroll; McSporran (Holsgrove, 67), Emblen (Senda, 90), Devine. Substitute not used: Beeton.

Wigan Athletic (3-4-1-2): R Carroll; McGibbon, Greenall, Griffiths; Green; Rogers, Porter (O'Neill, 69), Sharp; Liddle (Lee, 69); Barlow (Jones, 55), Haworth.

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).