Furlong damages Wigan's dreams

Queen's Park Rangers 1 - Wigan Athletic 0
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Now we shall see whether Wigan have what it takes to face some adversity in the remarkable progress that has taken them to the edges of a dream. The cruel concession of a goal four minutes from the end at Loftus Road yesterday cost them only their second defeat of the season, but may have cast some doubts on their ambition.

Now we shall see whether Wigan have what it takes to face some adversity in the remarkable progress that has taken them to the edges of a dream. The cruel concession of a goal four minutes from the end at Loftus Road yesterday cost them only their second defeat of the season, but may have cast some doubts on their ambition.

Whatever the outcome yesterday, it was always going to be a day of special poignancy for Wigan who, exactly 10 years before, were bottom of the entire Football League, five points adrift and seemingly heading back to non-League football, from which they had emerged in 1978. They survived, and now every match brings the same question: can they really be taken seriously as prospective Premiership members?

Their unbeaten record had been broken by Plymouth in their last game, and injuries had begun to wither their squad. Not that the effect of this was evident as they challenged Rangers for the early ascendancy, sparking counter- attacks that had pace and fluidity. But neither side could muster much in the way of penetration.

Wigan are not a side to suck the breath away with individuality, but Nathan Ellington, their most expensive ever signing (£1.2 million) is as close as it comes. Here he was clearly the one on whom they depended to unlock play. For Rangers, that responsibility fell to Gareth Ainsworth, brightly resuming his place on the right wing for his first start since August. His feeding of Paul Furlong, who clipped the post and headed close in the middle stages of the first half, balanced Wigan's initial pressure.

Without doubt Wigan should have finished the first half two goals ahead, not as a result of any sudden change in the balance of possession but because, with doubt in their minds, Nicky Eaden side-footed a clear challenge wide of goal and Jimmy Bullard allowed himself to have the ball grabbed from his feet by Chris Day's risky, but essential, dive.

The pendulum continued to swing. In the first 10 minutes of the second half it was Wigan's goalkeeper, John Filan, who had to be watchful. Rangers set up Furlong with a couple of chances. Filan reacted well, and immediately Jason Roberts broke at the other end. Day left his line, narrowed the angle and Roberts was left without a target. And Day exceeded that contribution when leaping to turn away a curling free-kick from Alan Mahon that was heading inside the far post.

Mainly because of the diligent work of Dan Shittu, Rangers dealt outstandingly well with the potential threat of Ellington, whose finishing and footwork had disturbed so many defenders. Here his performance was caught in Rangers' web and he was watching from afar as, in the 86th minute, Rangers substitute Kevin McLeod ripped the ball away from Bullard, tore down the left side, centred firmly and Furlong headed in off the post.

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