Wigan's title belief grows after sixth straight win

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The Independent Football

The Wigan Athletic manager Paul Jewell praised his side's fitness after their late victory at Stoke City on Tuesday night.

The Wigan Athletic manager Paul Jewell praised his side's fitness after their late victory at Stoke City on Tuesday night.

Wigan preserved their six-point lead at the top of the Championship as well as the only unbeaten record in the Football League with a sixth straight win thanks to Lee McCulloch's 86th-minute strike. The victory, their first at Stoke, came just two days after an impressive 2-0 success at Leeds and Jewell said: "We did ask Stoke to put it back but I was not surprised when the answer was no.

"It was a testament to the players' fitness that we've played two high-tempo games in three days and to get six points with two clean sheets is a great tribute. When you are 17 unbeaten we know we'll lose sometime, it could be on Saturday [against Plymouth Argyle], but you believe you can win every game. We have that belief and long may it continue."

After a fierce opening by the home side, Wigan were firmly on top for the final hour of the match but looked like they would have to settle for a point. Stoke's central defensive partnership of Michael Duberry and Gerry Taggart did a fine job of keeping the visitors' 21-goal strike partnership of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts quiet. Alan Mahon had earlier hit the post with an improvised scissor-kick that left Potters goalkeeper Ed de Goey stranded, but Mahon was later involved in the build-up to Wigan's decisive goal.

The former Blackburn Rovers midfielder played the ball into David Graham, playing up front after Ellington limped off, and he laid the ball off to McCulloch whose 20-yard strike gave De Goey no chance.

Jewell said: "There's more than one way to skin a cat. We edged a tight and physical game. There were a lot of honest players out there but not a lot of great football. Sometimes a 1-0 win away from home gives just as much pleasure as a 5-0 victory. We ground that out. It's not an easy place to come and I said to the players beforehand this is arguably one of the most physical games they'll play this season.

"After the first 15 minutes, I didn't think they caused us many problems. The whole team defended well. As a defensive unit it was a good performance."

Wigan's Australian goalkeeper John Filan kept his side on terms with a fine one-handed block from Darel Russell's close-range shot, while Chris Greenacre also threatened to score on several occasions in what was his first league start of the season.

Ipswich stayed on track with an emphatic 5-1 win over Sheffield United at Portman Road. Shefki Kuqi was on target twice, netting his first 60 seconds after team-mate Tommy Miller had opened the scoring with a penalty in the 22nd-minute.

Richard Naylor, Kuqi and Ian Westlake wrapped up the win to keep Ipswich second. Joe Royle, the Ipswich manager, was all smiles, but said: "While we continue to be free-scoring and entertaining at home, we have got to keep going, and our biggest fear is still injuries."