Eleven months after wrecking one season of dreams, West Ham returned to the JJB Stadium to deal another blow to Wigan's Premier League ambitions. Last season, Brian Deane's goal in the last minute of their final game squeezed Paul Jewell's side out of a play-off place; this time, Marlon Harewood's 66th-minute winner cast doubt on their hopes of automatic promotion.
Wigan, who had been in front through Jason Roberts six minutes into the second half before Teddy Sheringham equalised on his 39th birthday, stay second, but only on goal difference, ahead of Ipswich, while Sunderland now lead by five points. West Ham, whose victory ended a run of five without a win to silence, at least momentarily, manager Alan Pardew's doubters, move up one place to seventh, two points outside the top six.
Sunderland are due at Wigan on Tuesday in a match which assumes importance from the home side's per-spective less as a potential title decider as one they dare not lose if Ipswich, who face bottom-of-the-table Rotherham at home the same evening, are not to give them the slip as well with only six games to play.
"We're all disappointed but it's still in our hands," said Jewell. "If we win all our games between now and the end of the season, Ipswich can't catch us. We just have to put this behind us."
Meanwhile the frustratingly inconsistent Hammers, who can now boast away wins against all of the top three, will endeavour to maintain their revival at Burnley.
"This was a good day for us but our problem has been that we tend to follow a good performance with an iffy one," Pardew said. "That's why I'll be stressing to the players that we need to approach Tuesday's game in just the same way as this one."
West Ham won on Wearside in December and at Ipswich in January, although the hat-trick had not looked so likely when Roberts drilled home his 19th goal of the season after skilfully controlling Graham Kavanagh's pass on his chest. West Ham had carved out a couple of chances which Harewood failed to take, but Wigan had looked the stronger force in the opening 45 minutes and should have been ahead.
Pardew praised the way Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward, West Ham's two 20-year-old centre-backs, had dealt with the Championship's most potent strike-force, but Roberts should have scored when a mistake by Ward let him through after 34 minutes.
Wigan's top scorer, Nathan Ellington had a relatively quiet day, but shots from Jimmy Bullard and Gary Teale demonstrated the threat from midfield, while Roberts felt he had a good claim for a penalty when Ferdinand and Tomas Repka had him in a sandwich.
So the lead was no more than Wigan deserved, but Jewell felt their response was to sit back, rather than press home the advantage. Less than five minutes later, a Wigan attempt to clear their penalty area went disastrously wrong, the ball ricocheting to the predatory Sheringham, who lashed it home from close range.
Rattled, Wigan conceded a second when Harewood, running on to Mark Noble's headed pass, found his touch superbly, driving past John Filan from the edge of the box for his 17th goal of the season. Even with their new signing Brett Ormerod making a late entrance as a third striker, Wigan never looked like finding an equaliser.
"It is disappointing, because once we scored I thought we would go on to win it," Jewell said. "But nothing is decided yet. People might think Sunderland are home and hosed, but Mick McCarthy won't be saying that.
"As far as we are concerned, we live to fight another day, and it [promotion] remains in our hands."Reuse content