More significant even than the FA Cup quarter-final Birmingham City face at Portsmouth next Saturday are the 40 points they have on the board before February's end. Even their cautious manager Alex McLeish admitted after this victory that they can strike out for Wembley knowing they are safe.
A game settled by James McFadden's penalty in first-half stoppage time was hardly intoxicating viewing but how an increasingly troubled Wigan Athletic will envy their opponents' knack of defending a lead.
It was Birmingham's eighth 1-0 win of the season, preserves an unbeaten home record stretching back to September and lifts them to eighth. Wigan stand only one point off the bottom three and have scored in just two of the last seven games.
"It's an outstanding feat by a squad that cost us around £10 million last summer," McLeish said. "Fifty points is not unrealistic as a target now. Anything over that would be a bonus."
Wigan have never won at St Andrews and were grateful to remain unbreached here as long as they did. Twice, Scott Dann failed with headers on the six-yard line to Sebastian Larsson set-pieces, the first crashing against the bar from a free-kick, and Chris Kirkland reacted brilliantly to keep out McFadden's shot at point-blank range as Liam Ridgewell centred low. Cameron Jerome then hesitated over a chance set up by Dann.
When a goal came, it was gift-wrapped by Wigan's skipper Mario Melchiot. He might not have made contact when Keith Fahey fell near the corner of the area but the fact the ball was going away from goal anyway made the former Birmingham right-back's decision to stick out a long leg rash. McFadden drilled the penalty low into the corner.
Wigan's manager Roberto Martinez withdrew Paul Scharner and Charles N'Zogbia, no less, at half-time and had a big improvement, Hugo Rodellega having a shot blocked by Joe Hart's body and the Colombian and Jordi Gomez getting in each other's way when Victor Moses opened the home defence up late on.
"I don't think there was contact for the penalty but we weren't good enough in the first half," Martinez said. "It was poor quality. I was pleased with the reaction later."
Quickly though this game will fade, it left something for the TV Bloopers file. With a 74th-minute tackle that the manager called "horrendous", Ridgewell took out McCarthy, the corner flag and Trevor Massey, the assistant referee, who was stretchered off with a gashed forehead. McCarthy could miss a Republic of Ireland debut against Brazil in midweek with ankle damage.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: Scott Dann
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content