Wigan remain in the relegation zone entering their final two games. Yet the bizarre over-reaction by Emile Heskey to the kind of rugged defending he faces every week, along with the likelihood of Stewart Downing joining Ashley Young as a target for rival clubs, left Aston Villa looking more like a club at the crossroads.
Heskey ran to referee Mike Jones and barged into him when what he perceived as an elbow to the neck went unpunished after an aerial challenge with Wigan's Antolin Alcaraz. The former England striker was still incensed as he went down the tunnel at half-time – when he was prevented by team-mates and caretaker manager Gary McAllister from confronting the official – and could face Football Association charges if Jones includes the latter incident in his report.
McAllister, having seen Ashley Young's free-kick earn a point after Charles N'Zogbia's stylish finish rewarded a slick start by Wigan, was asked whether Heskey's behaviour was symptomatic of the pressure the club were under even before Gérard Houllier was hospitalised. "I think so, of course. These things all add to that," conceded the Scot, resisting the invitation to criticise his old Liverpool team-mate for leaving the stadium after being substituted.
"Maybe [going home] was the best thing. It's not a good message for someone to leave at half-time, but there was obviously red mist there. I caught Emile's eye late in the half and got the assurance that he'd get himself to half-time. Then I had to make sure Villa stayed with 11 players on the pitch."
The watching Fabio Capello would have been forgiven for wondering why Heskey seldom became so animated on the international stage. The England coach must have been impressed, however, by the performance of Downing, who excelled on either wing and showed the passing range that could address Villa's lack of midfield creativity – provided he stays.
Scorers: Aston Villa A Young 17 Wigan Athletic N'Zogbia 10
Substitutes: Aston Villa Albrighton 6 (Heskey, h-t). Wigan Di Santo 5 (N'Zogbia, 70), McArthur (Moses, 82).
Booked: Aston Villa Heskey, A Young.
Man of the match Downing. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Aston Villa 57% Wigan 43%.
Attempts on target: Aston Villa 7 Wigan 4.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).
Attendance 36,293.Reuse content