It is just as well for Emile Heskey that he announced his retirement from international football after last summer's World Cup debacle. Fabio Capello, the England coach, was present to see the Aston Villa striker barge into referee Mike Jones – a folly that could have left his former club, relegation-threatened Wigan, facing 10 men for two-thirds of this match.
The scoring was already complete by the time Heskey lost control. Charles N'Zogbia's eighth goal of the campaign had rewarded Wigan's enterprising start, only for Ashley Young to equalise from a well-executed set-piece seven minutes later. Both managers pleaded the Arsène Wenger amendment about Heskey's rush of blood, claiming they did not see him react furiously to Mr Jones' failure to award him a foul in an aerial challenge with Antolin Alcaraz. Villa's acting manager Gary McAllister, who substituted Heskey at half-time "for the team", said: "I'm not skipping the issue, but if he did barge into the referee then he's been very lucky. It was an over-the-top reaction. Knowing him the way I do – and he's someone I admire as well as a friend – that wasn't Emile out there."
Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, said: "My players are adamant his reaction was out of order and it should've been a red card." Heskey, he added, was a "true professional" and a "fantastic person", but he maintained it would have been a "key moment" had Villa been depleted. "We're not getting those decisions. But it's another point towards the 40 we want. We need four from two games so it's going to be a great atmosphere at home to West Ham next week."
Heskey's rage came in the 32nd minute following what McAllister described as a "knee in the back" by Alcaraz. He lay on the turf, seemingly pole-axed, until he realised no foul had been awarded. He then leapt angrily to his feet and chased after the official, deliberately running into him.
Villa could have had no complaints if he had been ordered off, especially after Heskey's team-mates had to prevent his pursuing his grievance with the Wigan players. Instead it was a yellow, but only after the remarkable sight of Brad Friedel running 70 yards from his goal to put a restraining arm around his colleague.
Heated arguments, apparently involving Young and Gary Caldwell, continued in the tunnel as the sides headed in at half-time. McAllister took the commonsense option and sent on Marc Albrighton while Heskey left the stadium, the substitute's arrival enabling Young to come in from the wing to lend much-needed support to Darren Bent.
Wigan, in turn, were annoyed by what they saw as Young's tendency to go to ground too easily. Soon after the visitors had taken the lead with N'Zogbia's left-footed shot across Friedel from the angle of the six-yard box, Young enhanced his standing as the Premier League performer to have won most free-kicks by tumbling to the turf under challenge from Ben Watson. The widely coveted attacker then added insult to irritation by getting to his feet and curling a low free-kick beyond Ali Al Habsi from 25 yards for his ninth goal of the season. Young turned provider with seven minutes remaining, his slide-rule pass sending Bent clear, but Al Habsi saved with a foot and Wigan held on for a deserved point.
Referee: Mike Jones
Man of the match: DowningReuse content