Gary Neville didn't know, and, as someone said, Gary Neville knows everything. Neville, in the Sky television studios, had scrolled through the game's defining moment 15 times to ascertain whether referee Mike Jones had called matters correctly in the 12th minute, when he sent a disbelieving Maynor Figueroa from the field. It changed everything. It could even change Newcastle's season.
At least they did it with a move of genuine quality, one that ended with Vurnon Anita passing to Demba Ba who played in Papiss Cissé. At that point the picture, as it did for Neville, became blurred. Cissé cleverly, through speed and forward know-how, sneaked a shoulder in front of the Wigan defender. It was enough.
As he bore down on Ali al-Habsi, Cissé, under the force of Figueroa's body strength, fell to the ground. It looked like Figueroa had shielded the ball back to his goalkeeper and the defender was unhappy at the first call, never mind the two that followed. From there Jones had a procedure to follow. He had called it a foul, and it was a foul in the penalty area. His second call was for a penalty to the home side. Then came the real contention.
Jones was 12 when Willie Young deliberately stopped Paul Allen from doubling West Ham's lead in the 1980 FA Cup final, a foul for which he received a yellow card because the laws would not allow a greater punishment, despite the blatant cynicism of the act. The foul did set in motion the wheels of change, eventually, for a professional foul to be deemed serious foul play, the kind of offence that denies a goalscoring opportunity.
Committing fouls like that would eventually get a player a straight red card, and so Jones stuck a red card in the air, and Figueroa put his head in his hands.The defender, we later learned, was "destroyed" when his Wigan team-mates sat around him at half-time.
Newcastle had lost four successive Premier League games before last night. With that card in the air went any realistic possibility of a fifth. Last night was crucial, and they were desperate for victory. That decision from Jones, one that no one, not even Neville with his computer, could prove was conclusively correct or incorrect, gave them that platform to change their season.
When Demba Ba stepped up from 12 yards and struck his penalty low, into the bottom corner of Al-Habsi's goal, it is not oversimplifying things – and this does not put Wigan in a good light – to say the game ended there.
Wigan are pleasing on the eye and in Roberto Martinez they have a manager who, you suspect, will achieve greater things in the game, but there was a dispirited feel to their side from that moment on. Ten men can get still get results on a football field, but it never looked a remote possibility from there.
Within eight minutes of the opening goal, Ba had added a second. This time the mistake was by Al-Habsi, but he will not get subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as the referee or the laws of the game. Davide Santon, who would later limp off with a groin injury, was allowed to run with the ball from the Newcastle halfway line, cut in and shoot with his right foot towards goal. Al-Habsi could only parry the effort and Ba, who is resembling the player he was this time last year, was there from short range to poke in a second.
Wigan fought their perceived injustice with more vigour than the game but there was much for Newcatle's manager, Alan Pardew, to take from this game in the displays of Anita, Ba's re-emergence and Sylvain Marveaux's emergence.
Marveaux was handed responsibility by Pardew, in the absence of Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa, two players of genuine quality who Newcastle are missing through injury. He was central, and not just in his position. In the 34th minute his low shot was tipped away by a full-stretched Al-Habsi and in the 37th minute his free-kick fizzed past the top corner but there was suggestion Newcastle could still have a player.
It would be easy to overlook the foul that led to his free-kick, when Gary Caldwell dragged Ba down as the forward headed towards the Wigan byline. Caldwell had already been booked but only received a talking to from the referee. It looked a bookable offence.
At half-time he was substituted – that felt wise. Cheick Tioté also did not appear because of injury. Ba limped off in the 86th minute. They had scored a third by then. Gael Bigirimana arrived with no fanfare from Coventry, but he has shown genuine promise. His goal, in the 71st minute, was excellent, cutting on to his left foot and striking a fine shot into the top left corner of the Wigan goal. He fell to his knees in celebration. Wigan had been on theirs for most of the evening.
Newcastle: KRUL, SIMPSON, WILLIAMSON, COLOCCINI, SANTON, MARVEAUX, ANITA, TIOTE, GUTIERREZ, CISSE, BA
Wigan: AL-HABSI, FIGUEROA CALDWELL, BOYCE, BEAUSEJOUR, JONES, McCARTHY, STAM, DI SANTO, GOMEZ, KONE
Subs: Newcastle Bigirimana (Tioté, h-t), Ferguson (Santon, 49), Sammy Ameobi (Gutierrez, 75). W igan McArthur (Gomez, 23) Lopez (Caldwell, h-t), McManaman (Di Santo, 83). Bookings: Newcastle Sammy Ameobi. Wigan Lopez, Beausejour, Di Santo. Sent-off: W igan Figueroa (12). Man of the match Ba. Referee M Jones (Cheshire). Attendance 43,858.Reuse content