Wrack wreaks havoc to knock Wigan off summit

Walsall 2 Wigan Athletic 0
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With Concorde out of the skies, most observers of the First Division might have reckoned on seeing something porcine fly before predicting this particular result that overturned the form book in a spectacular but deserved way.

This was Wigan's first defeat since the opening day of the season, inflicted on them by midfielder Darren Wrack's first two goals of the season, although that only told half the story. The influence of Paul Merson, once of Arsenal and England and playing for the first time in two weeks, was everywhere as Wigan were unseated at the top of the division by West Brom.

The two goals came within a quarter of an hour of each other, and Paul Jewell, the visitors' manager, was man enough to hold his hands up and admit Wigan were a distant second-best. "I've seen that result coming for a while now. That was one of our worst performances for some time," he said.

Wigan's ascent to the top of the table had been serene before this afternoon in the West Midlands sun and rain. Jewell has assembled a muscular collective that has, sadly, failed to attract the wider attentions of their local public.

Wigan had to return 900 tickets out of an allocation of 1,500 for this match, which no doubt reflects on Walsall's worth but says far more about Wigan fans' apathy, despite their near-fairytale start to the season.

At the start of play they were sitting proudly in the table above the likes of West Brom, Sunderland and Sheffield United. With the teams below them swapping bad results, it looked as if the fates were conspiring to keep Jewell's men ahead of the chasing pack into November.

While unable to boast a record like Wigan's, Colin Lee's Walsall side have now only suffered two defeats in their last seven games and are looking more at mid-table than the relegation zone.

The key was Merson, yet Lee admitted to having some doubts about picking him, especially after beating Reading last Tuesday without the striker. Asked why he did select him, Lee replied simply: "He's got the ability." However his teammates were usually not on the same wavelength, and when he picked out Gary Birch with a 40-yard crossfield pass, Birch was unable to exploit the space.

Wigan could only create half-chances, and they were squandered by a flu-stricken Geoff Horsfield, their main striker. That left the stage open for Merson and he was there to help Wrack break the deadlock in a hitherto uninspiring game.

Wrack picked the ball up just inside Wigan's half and set off on a run that could have ended up going nowhere but he played a one-two with Merson on the edge of the area and ran on to clip his shot expertly over John Filan.

The second was not long in coming, as Chris Baird got to the byline and somehow his cross squeezed all the way to the far post, where a delighted Wrack was waiting to poke the ball over the line.

Walsall 2 Wigan Athletic 0
Wrack 50, 66

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 7,041