Wigan Athletic’s new-found, and unlikely, personal love affair with Wembley Stadium shows no sign of abating after a dominant performance against fellow promotion hopefuls Reading edged Uwe Rösler’s side a step closer to a return to the national stadium in the play-off final.
Goals from Jordi Gomez, Martyn Waghorn and Callum McManaman left Wigan requiring four points from their final four games to be certain of a top-six finish while seriously denting Reading’s own play-off aspirations.
After four trips to Wembley in FA Cup and Charity Shield competition over the past 12 months, the form book – and Rösler’s astute management in steering his squad through an epic campaign which could end with his team having played 63 games – suggests a fifth visit to north-west London is very much within their grasp.
Less than a week removed from their last Wembley outing, and a heart-wrenching FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out loss to Arsenal, any notion of the Championship side nursing either fatigue or a hangover from that defeat, were swiftly removed.
“People might have been thinking that’s the end for Wigan,” said Rösler. “Everybody is thinking we’re down, talking about how tired we are. The fact is, we’re not tired, we’re stubborn. We started the game with the same momentum we had at Wembley last week and, as long as there is petrol in the tank, that is how we will play.
“Today we dropped one or two players who were not even on the bench but will maybe start on Monday. Overall, this was a very strong performance. To play like that with that intensity at this time of year is not easy. When we play like that, there are not many teams in this division who can live with that.”
It took 29 minutes of Wigan dominance before the home team were able finally to carve out the inevitable opening goal. And, given that it took 77 minutes for Reading to even shoot at the home team’s goal – when Michael Hector fired well wide to sarcastic cheers from his own supporters – a solitary goal was always likely to be sufficient.
The opener came from Gomez who gathered Roger Espinoza’s pass before shooting past goalkeeper Alex McCarthy from 20 yards for a lead that was doubled just before the interval when Reading’s keeper could only parry a McManaman shot and Waghorn was ideally placed to volley in the rebound.
Five minutes into the second half Reading had not only lost ground in the points column, but also goal difference, to Brighton in the hunt for sixth place. McManaman appeared on the end of a Shaun Maloney-inspired break and superbly raised the ball over the three defenders stood before him and high into the roof of the Reading goal.
“We were nowhere near the level required today and that was largely down to Wigan,” said Reading manager Nigel Adkins. “I thought they were the best team we have played this season. But there are three games to go and all to play for still.”
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Al Habsi; Perch, Boyce, Barnett, Beausejour; Gomez, McArthur, Espinoza (Collison, 83), Maloney (Fortune, 72); McManaman, Waghorn (Powell, 72). Substitutes not used Carson, McClean, Maynard, Kiernan.
Reading (4-1-4-1): McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Pearce, Obita; Hector; McCleary (Le Fondre, 83), Akpan, Williams (Robson-Kanu, 54), McAnuff (Blackman, 54); Pogrebnyak. Substitutes not used Federici, Drenthe, Gorkss, Cummings.
Referee C Pawson (Yorkshire).