Wigan's quiet revolution led by Teale and Bullard

Wigan Athletic 3 Leeds United 0
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It has taken them 19 years longer than Wimbledon - and without the unpleasant excesses - but Wigan Athletic are at the gateway to the top tier of English football.

Whether they can stride through to the Premier League in the next two and a half months depends on any number of factors, notably how deeply injuries and suspensions might bite into their shallow squad.

Any notion, though, that Wigan are near the summit of the Championship by accident was put to flight by the exemplary way they passed their latest test. As much as the cynics might tag them as Barnsley wannabees or a Swindon-in-waiting, the informed football world has seen this sustained promotion challenge coming for a year or more now.

The only criticism on Saturday was that Paul Jewell's side did not win by at least six because they so dominated Leeds United with their best performance of 2004-05 that 3-0 barely told the story. The Ipswich Town manager, Joe Royle, saw it for himself and will be more convinced than ever that his side's three-point lead is not fire-proof.

It is too easy to condemn Wigan as a two-man team. True, Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts have now shared 35 goals, but Wigan have the wherewithal throughout the side.

When they are not being pragmatic on an awful pitch by getting the ball forward quickly, they move it wide via Gary Teale, a direct winger of genuine end product. Jimmy Bullard is rightly rated one of the best central midfielders in the division and, at his side, Alan Mahon highlighted a wonderful second-half contribution with a 25-yard shot for the final goal.

The striker-turned-midfielder Lee McCulloch has scored 10 times and spoke of the extra inspiration Wigan drew from playing in front of their biggest crowd, 17,177, since their heartbreak at home to West Ham United on the last day of last season when Brian Deane's late equaliser deprived them of a place in the play-offs. "As long as every player remembers how hurt we were in that game, we won't blow it," he said. "No one wants to experience that again.

"There was a lot of pressure after stutters in our last two home games, but the atmosphere was great and we responded. Last season, it seemed the bigger the occasion, the better we played, and it was like that again."

If this is an example of what Jewell's men can do in front of a big crowd, it is just as well for the rest of the division that they average little over 10,000 in the shadow of their rugby league counterparts.

Leeds took 5,000-plus with them on their first visit to the JJB Stadium, encouraged by only two defeats in 12 League games. Shaun Derry's presence as their 28th debutant since relegation, though, was a reminder of the chaos they are still sifting through. Off-field stability and recovery will almost certainly have to precede genuine promotion ambitions.

When Leeds were winning or chasing championships every year, Wigan were in the Northern Premier League. Now, Ken Bates having had a spell as Latics' major shareholder in the meantime, their graphs have crossed. "Wigan are a very good side," said the Leeds striker, Rob Hulse. "They have had this team together for a couple of years, and have been threatening to do as well as they are now. Maybe their experience last year will help them get it right this time."

Goals: Ellington (10) 1-0; Roberts (56) 2-0; Mahon (75) 3-0.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson, Breckin, Baines; Teale, Bullard, Mahon, McCulloch; Roberts (Graham, 83), Ellington (Jarrett, 88). Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Wright, Whalley.

Leeds United (4-3-3): Sullivan; Kelly, Carlisle, Butler, Gray; Wright (Richardson, 64), Gregan, Derry; Lennon, Hulse, Healy. Substitutes not used: Ricketts, Walton, Johnson, Deane.

Referee: P Joslin (Nottinghamshire).

Booked: Wigan Roberts. Leeds Hulse, Derry.

Man of the match: Roberts.

Attendance: 17,177.

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