Gifton's rare gift fires up Stoke

Wigan Athletic 0 - Stoke City 1

Stoke City extracted maximum value from their first goal for seven matches, denting Wigan's promotion ambitions by achieving one of the Championship's most surprising results of the season so far.

Gifton Noel-Williams' 38th-minute strike did the trick and his team-mates then defended in gritty fashion to frustrate Wigan's attempts to salvage something from a substandard performance.

"Credit to them," said the Latics manager, Paul Jewell. "It's up to us to try to break them down and we didn't have the guile and quality in the right areas to do that." The unlikely result was a boost for the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, who pointed to the relative cost of the two squads.

"It's not too bad when you look at what we've done today against a team that's spent an absolute fortune," he said.

There was little sign of what was to come when the haves of Wigan created three good early chances against the have-nots. They should have taken the lead, but Jason Roberts' back-heel was straight at Steve Simonsen, Leighton Baines blazed wide, and Gary Teale had time to pick his spot but could only find the goalkeeper's body.

Having failed to make the breakthrough Wigan started to invite their visitors into the game and Stoke's confidence, obviously dented by their run of six games without a victory, started to recover.

Fittingly, they scored from the most incisive move of the match, working the ball down the left for their captain, Clive Clarke, to get to the byline a little too easily and pull the ball back for Noel-Williams to find the goal at his mercy.

It was often backs to the wall during a second half in which five Stoke players found their way into the referee's notebook as they concentrated on defending their lead by whatever means possible.

For all their weight of possession, Wigan created little and delivered poorly from a string of free-kicks and corners. The closest they came was a weak volley on the turn from Lee McCulloch which was comfortably saved and an angled shot from Roberts that required a little more of Simonsen.

Stoke, who had not been involved in a match with more than one goal in it since mid-October, even threatened a second when Noel-Williams twice got free on the break as Wigan threw everyone forward. In the end, his one goal was enough to clinch a result that opens a worrying gap between Ipswich and Wigan as well as making them look distinctly vulnerable to snipers from lower down the table.

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