Ellington takes top billing for Wigan

Wigan Athletic 1 - Ipswich Town 0
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The Independent Online

The difference in emotions was stark. In the stands, the Wigan Athletic supporters were rejoicing as they glimpsed the entrance to the promised land of the Premiership. But in their midst sat Dave Whelan, who was contemplating a far less pleasing landscape.

The difference in emotions was stark. In the stands, the Wigan Athletic supporters were rejoicing as they glimpsed the entrance to the promised land of the Premiership. But in their midst sat Dave Whelan, who was contemplating a far less pleasing landscape.

This morning Wigan are top of the Championship, but by tomorrow night they could be without a ground unless there is a 12th-hour settlement over police costs. Given the circumstances, you could understand that Whelan might have felt some of the gloss had been taken off Nathan Ellington's 22nd goal of the season that had put daylight between his club and Ipswich Town.

The teams began the match in second and third place, level on 66 points, so there was enough riding on this game anyway. But the Wigan chairman and owner added a twist of his own when he held an impromptu press conference an hour before kick-off and announced that the JJB Stadium is in imminent danger of being closed down in a dispute over policing costs.

Whelan said the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) are to apply to have the stadium's safety certificate withdrawn tomorrow, which will mean next Saturday's match against Millwall would be Wigan's last at the JJB until the dispute - concerning a bill running to nearly £300,000 - is resolved.

"I'm asking for the issue to be taken to court and if I lose I'll pay up," Whelan said, comparing the £43,000 bill Wigan had been presented with by the GMP for last month's match against Leeds United to the £7,700 nearby Preston North End had been charged for a game against the same opponents. "We have gone to Iraq to fight for democracy and I'd like a little bit here too."

With that kind of drama going on off the field, what happened on the pitch was in danger of being an anti-climax, although it would have got off to a pulsating start if Wigan's normally prolific strikers had been more accurate.

After 10 minutes Nicky Eaden's long ball was misjudged by David Unsworth and Nathan Ellington had a free run towards goal from the right. His angle was narrow, and if he had passed to Jason Roberts the goal would have been gaping, but he chose to go solo, pulling his shot wide.

Roberts had his chance after 25 minutes when Lee McCulloch's looped pass pushed him ahead of the Ipswich back four. His prod bounced against the post and Jimmy Bullard, following up, should have scored had he kept his head. Instead he went for power and his shot flew over the bar.

Given their record, the chances are the Championship's dynamic duo are not going to be profligate all afternoon, however, and after 43 minutes Wigan went ahead with a penalty. Roberts turned and appeared to be lining up for a shot until he slipped a clever pass to his strike partner. Ellington, brought down by Fabian Wilnis, took an exaggerated run-up for the spot kick and then chipped the ball slowly into the space that the Ipswich goalkeeper Kelvin Davis had left with his dive.

The onus was on Ipswich, who have gained only one point from 12, to attack in the second half but they carried little conviction and failed to get a single shot on target in the second period.

They have problems on the pitch; Wigan have problems of a larger scale off it. "I've only just heard about it," Paul Jewell, the manager, said, referring to the potential closure. "It's a good job we've got a good away record." It is to be hoped Manchester's finest see things in a similarly light-hearted way tomorrow.

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