Wigan revive promotion plan after hellish month

Reading 1 - Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Football

So there it was - a hard-fought draw between two decent sides who have learned the hard way in recent years that it is wiser to travel in hope rather than expectation. Would you put money on either being in the Premiership next season? Not a huge amount.

So there it was - a hard-fought draw between two decent sides who have learned the hard way in recent years that it is wiser to travel in hope rather than expectation. Would you put money on either being in the Premiership next season? Not a huge amount.

Given that the home team were defending one of the best home record in the League - six wins, two draws - and the away side were seeking to stabilise themselves after the dip in form that had seen their Championship lead reduced to one point, this result was predictable.

Had Nicky Shorey's 92nd-minute free-kick gone in off the bar rather than cannoning away, Reading would have claimed the points that their second-half performance narrowly merited. As it was, however, both managers appeared comfortable with an outcome which leaves their respective sides in the promotion picture, even if Wigan have had to give way at the top to an Ipswich side which currently appears the most likely candidate for upward mobility.

Caution is the Wigan watchword these days. Having forced their way up into the Football League in 1978, they came perilously close to a non-League return 10 years ago when they were five points adrift at the bottom of the heap.

A decade on, they are jostling for the heights. But the traumatic events of their most recent League campaign, when they were in the promotion frame until the closing weeks before slipping out of the play-off places on the final day of the season, have clearly registered upon them.

Thus their barnstorming start to 2004-05, which saw them six points clear at the top by the beginning of this month, was treated circumspectly by the man now guiding their fortunes, Paul Jewell. The other imposter duly emerged, as Wigan's unbeaten run was ended with successive defeats.

They have now steadied themselves with successive draws, but the deflected shot with which Alan Mahon gave them a 26th-minute lead on Saturday has been their only goal so far in a month that Jewell maintained he would be "glad to see the back of".

In the Wigan manager's analysis, this year's Championship contains a number of "evenly balanced squads", and much will depend upon how those personnel are supplemented when the January transfer window is unlatched. "It's about who gets the right player at the right time," Jewell added.

On the day, Wigan's pattern was disrupted by the early injury to Lee McCulloch which required their record £1.2m signing Nathan Ellington to drop back into midfield.

But Reading were similarly affected up front, given the injuries that have deprived them of their regular stalwart Nicky Forster and, as of last week, the Championship's top scorer, Dave Kitson.

Stand-ins Dean Morgan and Lloyd Owusu, who scored an exuberantly-headed equaliser three minutes before half-time, performed manfully.

But Reading, too, have historical reasons to be careful. Having escaped merging with Oxford United 11 years ago as part of Robert Maxwell's ill-conceived Thames Valley Royals venture, the club has emerged as a buoyant financial entity with the advent of multi-millionaire chairman John Madejski seven years ago.

The 24,200 capacity Madejski Stadium, complete with a four-star hotel which has done booming business, was opened in August 1998 - a home fit for Premiership heroes. But the heroes have found the route to the top frustratingly tricky despite a consistent record in recent years, missing out in the play-offs the season before last.

Whether Steve Coppell can succeed where Alan Pardew narrowly failed remains to be seen. He can be relied upon, as always, to get the best out of what he has. But will he ever have enough?

Goals: Mahon (26) 0-1; Owusu (42) 1-1.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little, Sidwell, Harper, Hughes; Morgan, Owusu. Substitutes not used: Young (gk), Goater, Convey, Brooker, Newman.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson, Brecklin, Baines; Teale (Flynn, 81), Bullard, Mahon (Wright, 77), McCulloch (Graham, 22); Roberts, Ellington. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), McMillan.

Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).

Booked: Wigan Athletic: Graham.

Man of the match: Sonko.

Attendance: 22,114.

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