Milner fires Villa's top four hopes

Wigan Athletic 1 Aston Villa 2

The remarkable season being enjoyed by James Milner and his Aston Villa team-mates continued apace at the DW Stadium last night when the versatile midfielder came up with the goal that earned his club three potentially vital points in their quest for fourth place.

Milner was on hand to settle a thoroughly entertaining contest in the 63rd minute, depositing the ball into the corner of the goal from 20 yards after Chris Kirkland had failed to deal with Ashley Young's corner and Mohamed Diame only half-cleared.

An emergency full-back for England and utilised all over midfield by his club manager, Martin O'Neill, Milner has jack-of-all-trades qualities which have made him a near certainty for Fabio Capello's World Cup squad – but last night he illustrated why, as a central midfielder, he is ready to ply his trade on the Champions League stage.

"James was extraordinary tonight. It was an extraordinary performance from a really, really good player," O'Neill said. "Since he stepped into central midfield for us, his game has gone up tenfold, really.

"That is his best position and he continues to go from strength to strength. I think he has added more to his game. I understand that sometimes, when you are playing out wide, you are dependent on other people giving you the ball and getting you into the game.

"But when you have that determination and ability, you might as well use it there in the centre of the field. There is no doubt James would be ready for the Champions League. In fact, he's not only ready for that. If things still go all right and, touch wood, he stays clear of injury, there is no reason he can't be playing for England at the World Cup."

Milner's goal settled a contest which saw each side score within the space of two first-half minutes. The opener, claimed by Villa, was a bizarre affair, James McCarthy making the sort of volleyed contact with John Carew's header across goal that he could probably not duplicate if he tried, the ball somehow spinning off his boot and into his own goal.

The Republic of Ireland international was understandably distraught but his solace was not long in coming, as Wigan produced a 27th-minute equaliser following a foul by Stephen Warnock on McCarthy himself.

Charles N'Zogbia's free-kick was perfectly judged but there was a major malfunction in Villa's marking as the defender Gary Caldwell was allowed to turn an unopposed header past Brad Friedel.

There were chances at each end, Friedel saving well at the foot of his post from Maynor Figueroa and Kirkland doing likewise in tipping over a Stewart Downing shot and then blocking one from Carew as he bore down on goal. But Villa's grip on midfield, courtesy of Milner, and their pace wide and up front, ultimately tipped the balance.

"I really feel for the players," said the Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez, who must now lift them for Saturday's home game with Burnley. "They don't deserve the feeling they have got now. I feel a draw would have been a fair result tonight. But every point has an extra significance now and we need to make sure we react in the right way, because Saturday is going to be vital."

Wigan Athletic Kirkland; Boyce (Scotland, 90), Caldwell, Bramble, Figueroa, Thomas, McCarthy (Scharner, 71), Diame, N'Zogbia (Moses, 56), Moreno, Rodallega. Substitutes not used: Stojkovic, Amaya, Gomez, Sinclair.

Aston Villa Friedel; Cuellar, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Downing, Milner, Petrov, A Young, Agbonlahor (Sidwell, 81), Carew (Heskey, 81). Substitutes not used: Guzan, L Young, Delfouneso, Delph, Beye.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Wigan Bramble, Rodallega; Aston Villa Dunne.

Man of the match: Milner.

Attendance: 16,186.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created