The eerie mood of discontent around a half-empty Portman Road was palpable long before the referee, Paul Taylor, blew the final whistle to signal the end of 90 minutes of punishment for Ipswich Town. Expectation demands that Ipswich, under their manager, Joe Royle, mount a realistic and sustainable promotion bid this campaign. Defeat to Wigan does not feature high up on the list of targets for the season.
But Wigan, a team packed with players who helped the club out of the Second Division last season, are showing enough to suggest that it is their long-suffering supporters, rather than those of Ipswich, who should now ready themselves for the prospect of joining the scrap for promotion to the Premiership.
Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager, has some impressive form in the specialised area of expertise that is achieving the unthinkable with a club of which little was expected, having guided Bradford to their brief foray into the Premiership in 2000-01.
"I thought that if we had got three, four or even five at half-time, it wouldn't have flattered us," Jewell said. "We've got power and we've got pace and we are strong away from home. It's still going to be very difficult but we have a group of players who have done exceptionally well to get where they are and be in there with a shout."
Wigan dominated a first half in which it appeared that the late kick-off had kept most of the Ipswich starting line-up well past their bedtime. Where Ipswich were sloppy, Wigan excelled, with the front pairing of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts revelling in a constant supply line of chances from Wigan's creative and combative midfield.
Roberts netted a simple 18th-minute opener for the visitors after a Jason de Vos header eluded the attentions of Ipswich's defensive line to send him clean through on goal. Ipswich, like their fan base, could muster no real response to the goal, and 15 minutes later Ellington side-footed Wigan into a two-goal lead after excellent work from Gary Teale on the right.
Half-time pep talks and motivational rants are Royle's stock-in-trade, but if the tea cups had been thrown in the dressing-room, Ipswich's start to the second half suggested that the crockery had missed its intended target as Wigan extended their lead in the 52nd minute through Teale's superb strike from the right-hand edge of the penalty area.
The Finnish striker Shefki Kuqi briefly ignited hopes that Ipswich would stir from their slumber and mount a fight-back with a goal on the hour, and Darren Bent crashed a shot against the crossbar 10 minutes later. But even though the young Wigan defender Leighton Baines was sent off on 80 minutes for his second bookable offence, the away side were able to amble to an impressive victory, propelling the club to the giddy heights of third in the table.
Wigan clearly enjoy their unexpected billing as promotion contenders, unburdened by expectations of success. In stark contrast, every dropped point and lacklustre performance by an Ipswich side pillaged of most of its finest talents, is seen as a sign of another season of underachievement.
Goals: Roberts (18) 0-1; Ellington (33) 0-2; Teale (53) 0-3; Kuqi (60) 1-3.
Ipswich (4-4-2): Davis; Wright, Naylor, Diallo, Richards; Miller, Magilton, Bart-Williams (Westlake, 59), Reuser (Santos, 46); Counago (Darren Bent, 45), Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Bowditch.
Wigan (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, De Vos, Breckin, Baines; Teale, Jarrett (McCulloch, 71), Bullard, Mahon; Roberts, Ellington (McMillan, 83). Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Jackson, Liddell.
Referee: P Taylor (Hertfordshire).
Bookings: Ipswich: Kuqi. Wigan: Baines. Sending-off: Wigan: Baines.
Man of the match: Teale.
Attendance: 22,093.Reuse content