Emphatic Wigan stay in pursuit of Whelan's dream

Wigan Athletic 4 - Coventry City 1
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The Independent Online

Unbeaten Wigan's Premiership ambitions are looking less a dreamy element of chairman Dave Whelan's romantic vision than a nailed-on certainty on current form. A fourth straight win at the JJB Stadium yesterday, achieved in emphatic fashion after a sluggish start, sent out a message to the rest of the Championship: the standard to which others must aspire is not being set at West Ham, Sunderland or Leeds but in the rugby league heartlands of Lancashire.

Unbeaten Wigan's Premiership ambitions are looking less a dreamy element of chairman Dave Whelan's romantic vision than a nailed-on certainty on current form. A fourth straight win at the JJB Stadium yesterday, achieved in emphatic fashion after a sluggish start, sent out a message to the rest of the Championship: the standard to which others must aspire is not being set at West Ham, Sunderland or Leeds but in the rugby league heartlands of Lancashire.

It is just a shame that the people of Wigan seem unable to work up much enthusiasm for Whelan's plans. The 67-year-old one-time Everton defender, who made his fortune in sports retailing, has ploughed much of it into founding a top-flight club.

Yet even at the top of the table, Paul Jewell's hard-working but watchable team cannot attract 10,000 fans to a stadium designed for 25,000.

Not that it is affecting Wigan's ability to motivate themselves. Yesterday, after Coventry had looked the better side in the opening half, they galvanised themselves so effectively that Peter Reid's team was simply brushed aside in the second.

Wigan had taken the lead in the 15th minute thanks to a splendid goal by midfielder Alan Mahon, volleyed low and hard from 25 yards with the outside of his left foot after Jimmy Bullard's free-kick had been headed away. Goalkeeper Luke Steele had no chance as the ball flashed past his left arm, although with a crowded penalty he may have seen it late.

But by the half-hour, Coventry were level. Eddie Johnson, the 19-year-old striker on a season-long loan from Manchester United, glanced home Michael Doyle's free-kick after David Wright had been judged to have fouled Rohan Ricketts just outside the penalty area on the left.

Unfortunately for Coventry, who jogged off for their half-time cuppas with a definite edge, Wigan emerged from their dressing-room for teh second period a team transformed. Whereas Doyle and Michael Hughes had held sway in midfield for the opening 45 minutes, now Mahon and Jimmy Bullard stepped up their work rate and seized control. After allowing Coventry much possession in the first half, now Wigan were a yard quicker than their opponents, winning many more loose balls.

It took only eight minutes after the restart for them to regain the lead, Wright's cross from the right prompting a scramble from which Coventry failed to clear the ball, Jason Roberts hooking it back into the danger area, where David Graham was cool enough to side foot home.

Ten minutes later, after Steele had been forced to tip Mahon's dipping long-range effort over, Nathan Ellington met Bullard's inswinging corner to head his 11th goal of the season and put Paul Jewell's side home and dry.

If Peter Reid's mood was not black enough after that, he found his side down to 10 men with 11 minutes left as Steve Staunton was dismissed after his foul on Roberts handed Wigan a penalty. The only consolation for the visitors was that Roberts missed.

But Wigan managed a fourth goal with substitute Mike Flynn heading home full-back Leighton Baines' cross in stoppage time.

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