Rodallega strike starts ball rolling for Wigan to enjoy life on the road again

Woverhampton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 2

This time it needed no wild lunging tackle by Karl Henry on Jordi Gomez to give Wigan the moral high ground against Wolverhampton. Concise counter-attacking football did that for them, ensuring Mick McCarthy's bungling side remained at the foot of the Premier League, where West Ham United's lunchtime victory dumped them, and propelling Roberto Martinez's men into the nose-bleed territory of 16th place.

Wigan's goals came early from Hugo Rodallega – the leading scorer's fifth of the season – in a textbook display of lone front-running, and the excellent Tom Cleverley, the on-loan Manchester United midfielder's third in four games. Wolves finally replied in the closing minutes through substitute Steven Fletcher, but the undeserved equaliser that would have soured the occasion for the 20 visiting fans who came dressed as bananas failed to materialise.

This, in fact, was only Wigan's third away success in 2010. One was secured at Tottenham early in the season and the other at Molineux against Wolves back in January. Martinez had been concerned that the "pressure" of possibly sinking to the bottom might have affected his young team. It had the opposite effect. "We matched their physicality, and showed fantastic maturity as well as great flair going forward," the Wigan manager said. "It's only three points but they are extra-significant. The psychological factor is very important."

His Wolves counterpart rued their habit of conceding early goals. "We're not that good, that tough or experienced that we can keep coming back from those," said McCarthy." The defending for both goals was not that good, but it's not to do with systems or shapes. It's just mistakes."

Wigan's first goal had its origins, innocuously enough, in a left-wing corner by Ben Watson. Wolves cleared the immediate danger only for 21-year-old Cleverley to hook the ball back into the penalty box. Gary Caldwell, who had stayed up, flicked it on hopefully for Rodallega to turn Richard Stearman rather too easily and angle his shot past Wayne Hennessey from six yards.

Wolves' defending was even sloppier when Wigan doubled their lead. The hapless Stearman was again culpable, as Steve Gohouri's throw-in reached Rodallega 35 yards out. The Colombian had time to thread a pass to Cleverley, who took advantage of Ronald Zubar's poor positioning to slot the ball through Hennessey's legs.

The referee, Mike Dean, turned down what McCarthy justifiably called a "stonewall penalty" when Gohouri felled Stephen Ward near half-time. It was telling, however, that the only save of real merit Ali Al Habsi was forced to make stemmed from a set-piece. Nenad Milijas's free-kick took a major deflection off Cleverley in Wigan's wall, but the Omani flicked out his right leg to divert the ball to safety.

Al Habsi was eventually beaten by Fletcher, who shot home from close range after Wigan failed to clear Matt Jarvis's cross. Nearly four minutes of stoppage time could not trick Wolves into the siege, let alone the second goal, which all but the banana bunch craved.

Substitutes: Wolves Jarvis (Edwards, 54), Fletcher (Elokobi, 70) Unused Hahnemann (gk), Doherty, Jones, Mujangi Bia, Fletcher, Bent.

Wigan Unused Pollitt (gk), S Caldwell, Robinson, Gomez, De Ridder, Boselli, McManaman. Booked: Wolves Zubar Wigan Alcaraz, Watson, Cleverley.

Man of the match Cleverley.

Referee M Dean (Merseyside).

Att 26,901.

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