Wigan lifted themselves out of the Barclays Premier League relegation zone in spectacular style with a thumping win over 10-man Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
Wigan Athletic usually end the Premier League campaign with a flourish, defying the odds and narrowly preserving their elite status when all hope appeared to have been lost. This season, they seem to be launching their Houdini heroics a bit earlier, to judge by this demolition of fellow strugglers Reading.
Admittedly, Wigan were assisted by as abject a display as Reading have produced this season, which was compounded when Pavel Pogrebnyak, their Russia striker, was sent off in the second half for an ugly foul on Maynor Figueroa. Still, as an indicator of the possible outcome of their annual dice with relegation, Wigan should feel optimistic.
Victory, Wigan’s first in the league in 2013, lifted them above Reading and Aston Villa, out of the drop zone if not out of sight of their rivals. With consecutive home games against Liverpool, Newcastle United and Norwich City next month, the FA Cup quarter-finalists could creep further from danger and secure a ninth consecutive season in the top flight.
“We don’t want to be in this position, we don’t enjoy it,” Roberto Martínez, the Wigan manager, said. “But, yes, we do know what is expected in this situation and that really helps. Getting that winning feeling is very important and we now have to keep that winning feeling going. We’re still in two competitions and that’s got to be good.”
Neither side impressed initially, the early spectacle offering little to savour apart from two fine saves from Adam Federici, the Reading goalkeeper. First, he denied Franco Di Santo; then, spectacularly, he kept out an Arouna Koné drive. In between, Reading just about raised themselves from their torpor when Hope Akpan should have done better than carelessly head over a decent cross from Jem Karacan. All round, it was uninspiring stuff.
And yet, as the imminent half‑time whistle promised relief for the fans, Reading imploded. First, Jean Beausejour’s corner pinballed around the home area, Gary Caldwell nudged the ball on – with perhaps the use of a hand – Figueroa guided it towards goal and Koné chested it into the net. “Caldwell knows he handled it,” lamented the Reading manager Brian McDermott.
In stoppage time Reading again pressed the self-destruct button. Sean Morrison lost possession in midfield, Beausejour fed Koné and the Ivorian cleverly chipped the onrushing Federici. Wigan’s small band of travelling supporters could not believe their eyes. Nor could the home fans, who unleashed a chorus of boos.
So much for Reading’s unbeaten home run of five matches, from which they had garnered 11 points. Wigan smelt blood and, after the break, went straight for the jugular. Figueroa exchanged passes with Di Santo and ran on to drive the ball through the legs of Federici.
Despite Reading’s renowned powers of recovery, there would be no comeback this time – a point reinforced when Pogrebnyak, in attempting to make a challenge on Figueroa, succeeded only in crunching into the left back’s left ankle. A “forward’s tackle” it might have been but Phil Dowd, the referee, showed no mercy with a straight red card.
“It was a mistimed tackle and Pavel caught him,” McDermott said. “We had a bad day, Wigan had a good day. That was about it. But I will not change my philosophy or my belief in the players who have got us to where we are now. We’ve got 11 games left and there will be some good days in that.”
Federici spared Reading a heavier defeat, saving smartly from Figueroa and Jordi Gómez, as the home band tried to inspire with a rendition of “The Great Escape”. Come May, it is Wigan – again – who are the more likely to perform that.
Reading (4-5-1): Federici; Kelly, Morrison, Mariappa, Harte; Kébé (Hunt, 63), Karacan (McCleary, 71), Leigertwood, Akpan (Le Fondre, 46), McAnuff; Pogrebnyak.
Wigan (4-4-2): Al Habsi; Boyce (Alcaraz, 83), Scharner, Caldwell, Figueroa; Maloney, McArthur, McCarthy, Beausejour; Koné, Di Santo (Gómez, 75).
Referee: Phil Dowd.
Man of the match: Figueroa (Wigan)
Match rating: 6/10.