First division

Wigan aim to boost North-West image
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The Independent Football

The loss of a two-goal lead when they were held to a draw at Derby last weekend clearly has not affected Wigan's confidence. A goal down at half-time against Stoke on Tuesday, Paul Jewell's side recovered to secure a 2-1 victory that took them into second place in the First Division as the leaders, West Bromwich Albion, dropped to third with a 2-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United, who took over at the top.

With three points covering the leading five, another shuffling of the pack is possible today and Wigan, at home to fifth-from-bottom Gillingham, may be the beneficiaries. Given that the Blades travel to Millwall (eighth) and Albion face in-form Norwich, who are unbeaten in seven, Athletic have a chance to return to the summit, perhaps with West Ham (at home to Burnley) and Sunderland, who entertain Walsall, also making progress.

Wigan's fine start to the season has further enhanced the football prosperity currently enjoyed by Lancashire and raises the prospect of that county's six-strong Premiership contingent gaining another member next season.

But Wigan are not the only team in the north-west whose supporters think a promotion challenge is within their scope. Preston North End have quietly gained ground on the leading pack and could mark a milestone for their manager, Craig Brown, at Reading this afternoon.

Inconsistent last season, when they dropped as low as 18th before eventually finishing 12th, Preston travel to the Madejski Stadium in search of a fourth consecutive win, which would be their best run so far under the former Scotland coach.

After winning at Nottingham Forest and Millwall either side of a home victory against Wimbledon, Preston will fancy their chances against a Reading team that need to find their feet under their new manager, Steve Coppell.

But Brown warns against allowing expectations to grow too quickly. "I've been pleased with the defence," he said. "Lucketti, Jackson and Broomes have a good understanding and Gould has been exceptionally prominent in goal. But we are far from the finished article."

Brown is mindful, too, of the 5-1 defeat his team suffered at Reading last season, albeit at a time when the Royals, under Alan Pardew's guidance, were on the way to clinching a play-off place. Reading won their first game under Coppell when beating Gillingham on Tuesday.

Pardew, meanwhile, will watch from the stands for the last time today before taking charge at West Ham. The Hammers were held 1-1 at home by Norwich last Wednesday, which is one reason why Nigel Worthington's Canaries will go to The Hawthorns today in good spirits, although the on-loan striker Darren Huckerby is doubtful.

But Worthington was encouraged by the performance of the goalscorer Peter Crouch, his other borrowed front man, at Upton Park. "The whole team played well and it was definitely Peter's best game so far for us," he said.