After 27 years and Whelan's £75m, Wigan cruise to the promised land

Wigan Athletic 3 - Reading 1
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Facing a stern challenge from 11 Royals and a Royle, Wigan Athletic mounted a regal response here yesterday to beat Reading and claim a place among the aristocracy of the English game. Fittingly, it fell to the man known as "The Duke", Nathan Ellington, to put the seal on Wigan's eight-year ascent from the fourth tier to the Premiership.

Facing a stern challenge from 11 Royals and a Royle, Wigan Athletic mounted a regal response here yesterday to beat Reading and claim a place among the aristocracy of the English game. Fittingly, it fell to the man known as "The Duke", Nathan Ellington, to put the seal on Wigan's eight-year ascent from the fourth tier to the Premiership.

Goals by Lee McCulloch and Jason Roberts in the space of four minutes midway through the first half had set Wigan on their way to automatic promotion behind Sunderland. A stronger showing by Reading in the second half had the 16,000 home supporters asking anxiously for news of Ipswich Town's progress on the South Coast, but Ellington's imperious header banished any lingering doubts.

Steve Sidwell's riposte was too little and too late for Reading, who had begun the afternoon harbouring hopes of stealing into the play-offs. It was followed, almost immediately, by the final whistle, prompting hundreds of delirious fans to ignore loudspeaker appeals for them to stay off the playing surface. "Bring on Chelsea," proclaimed one banner.

The older Wigan supporters, many of whom followed the club to such outposts as Netherfield, Kirkby and Great Harwood before they were elevated from the Northern Premier League only 27 years ago, pinched themselves and began looking forward to trips to Old Trafford and Anfield, Highbury and Stamford Bridge.

Paul Jewell, Wigan's 40-year-old manager, has moved among the élite before, having been the Premiership's youngest manager when he led Bradford City to promotion in 1999, also at the expense of Ipswich.

The difference this time is that he has the backing of a multimillionaire chairman, the sportswear mogul Dave Whelan, who has so far spent £75m. Whelan was so jubilant at yesterday's outcome that he kissed a policewoman.

Jewell sensed from the early stages that a side containing nine of the team who came up in 2003 from what is now League One were intent on erasing the memory of the late equaliser by West Ham which prevented them reaching the play-offs on the final day last year. "I'd felt all week that we were going to do it," he said. "Nothing was going to stop us. You could see that from the first whistle."

No sooner had reports of Ipswich's early breakthrough at Brighton swept over the stands like a shadow than Wigan plumped up a two-goal cushion. Excellent goals they were, too. Graham Kavanagh initiated the first after 18 minutes, feeding Nicky Eaden, who in turn found Roberts breaking through the inside-right channel. The striker reached the dead-ball line before cutting the ball back to Ian Breckin, whose audacious flick-on enabled McCulloch to steer the ball in from close range.

Ellington, who recently lost his form and his place in the side to the on-loan Brett Ormerod, had a part in the second, supplying his fellow former Bristol Rovers forward Roberts around 30 yards from goal. Roberts swerved past Ibrahima Sonko as the defender slipped before coolly stroking home his 21st goal of the season as Marcus Hahnemann went to ground too early.

Nicky Forster miscued a good chance to halve the deficit before the interval, but Reading stepped up the pressure following the introduction of Les Ferdinand. Wigan held firm and added a third goal with five minutes remaining. Jason Jarrett's far-post cross picked out Ellington, who marked his 250th appearance for the Lancashire club by burying a low header for his 24th goal of the campaign.

To the swarm of young Wiganers who were preparing to engulf their heroes, Sidwell's header in stoppage time was a blissful irrelevance.

Goals: McCulloch (18) 1-0; Roberts (21) 2-0; Ellington (85) 3-0; Sidwell (90) 3-1.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson, Breckin, McMillan; Bullard (Teale, 82), Jarrett, Kavanagh, McCulloch; Ellington (Wright, 89), Roberts (Mahon, 63), Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Johansson.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Hughes; Little (Owusu, 72), Sidwell, Harper, Brooker (Ferdinand, 57); Forster, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Young (gk), Keown, Newman.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Wigan Athletic Kavanagh; Reading Little.

Man of the match: Kavanagh.

Attendance: 19,662.

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