Goals from Nathan Ellington and Lee McCulloch brought Wigan their first home win for two months as they consolidated their place in the First Division's top three.
It is Latics' away form that has seem them climb up the table towards the automatic promotion positions, but this match saw them rediscover the art of grinding out a result at the JJB Stadium.
It was not the most convincing of wins, with Wigan goalkeeper John Filan having to make a couple of excellent saves and their second goal relying on a charitable interpretation from the referee. "But this was about getting the three points and I don't care how we got them,'' said the Wigan manager Paul Jewell.
There were early hints of the compelling form his side showed in beating Ipswich last week, especially from Gary Teale, the old-fashioned right winger named in the Scotland squad for the first time last week and watched yesterday by Berti Vogts.
But it was Derby, struggling in the lower reaches as George Burley tries to rebuild a side that can keep them up, who had the best chance. It took a wonderful instinctive save from Filan to keep out a ferocious effort from Noel Whelan.
Alan Mahon, making his home debut, volleyed wide for Wigan and their other recent arrival, Jason Roberts, helped to set up a chance which Ellington put over the bar.
That familiar feeling of frustration that Wigan had experienced in the two goalless draws in their last two home games was starting to take hold, but before half-time Ellington broke the spell with his 14th goal of the season.
It was Mahon's educated left foot that was largely responsible. "That's what we have lacked and Alan whipped a fantastic ball in,'' said Jewell. Ellington appreciated it as well, heading home with a glancing header which left Lee Grant helpless.
Ellington fired wide and Teale half volleyed over the bar early in the second half as Wigan looked to build on their advantage, but they got their warning that the game was not yet won when Filan was forced into saves from Izale McLeod and Michael Thomson. Twelve minutes from time, Latics clinched it with a goal of debatable legality. Nicky Eaden crossed from the right, Ellington won the header on the far post and McCulloch, himself a member of Scotland's squad and only just on the field as a substitute, scored with a spectacular overhead kick.
Burley claimed that Grant had been pushed: "That goal was an embarrassment", he said. "Everyone on the ground saw that it was a blatant foul on the keeper.''
Even Jewell admitted: "A lot of referees would have come down in favour of the goalkeeper.'' He was not, however, inclined to examine that gift horse too closely. Filan still had to make another good save from the Derby substitute, Manuel Manel, but the job was done. Wigan are back in their stride at home and if they can continue to pick up points there, there is little to stop them at least qualifying for the play-offs.Reuse content