Wigan 0 Sheffield United 1: Jewell may not be so kind next time

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The Independent Online

The high esteem in which Neil Warnock holds Paul Jewell can be measured in the number of phone calls the former made to the latter last summer, in search of advice on how to negotiate a first season in the Premiership. After Sheffield United became the latest side to join the company of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal by winning at the JJB Stadium on Saturday, Jewell might wonder if he was a little too free with the insider knowledge.

Three wins in their last four matches have propelled Warnock's team to a position from which the Sheffield United manager's claim to be able to identify three teams more likely to be relegated than his can be taken more seriously. Currently, there are twice that number who would gladly swap their place for his.

But Wigan are not one of them, a fact that Jewell felt should be mentioned during the analysis that followed the fourth consecutive home match in which his team have failed to score. There is a perception, it seems, within this hotbed of rugby league, that the town's excursion into top-flight football is destined to enjoy a brief shelf-life.

Jewell therefore finds himself fighting public apathy, reflected in tumbling attendances at the JJB, so it was with feeling that he reminded everyone that Wigan's standing in the table is not exactly precarious. "People are talking about the demise of Wigan Athletic but we've got two more points than Sheffield United," he said.

It was a comment that, had it come from another manager, might have sent Warnock into a state bordering apoplexy, but his admiration for Jewell is such that he took the opportunity instead to endorse the Wigan manager's talents -- and urge Wigan's stay-away public not to let them slip away through lack of appreciation.

"I know where Paul is coming from when he says he is disappointed with the attendances," Warnock said, reflecting on comments Jewell made after only 15,000 turned out for the visit of Arsenal last week, 2,500 of whom were in the visitors' section. "We play Arsenal on 30 December and I'd be surprised if we don't get 33,000.

"It does make a difference. It definitely helps the away teams here that the crowds are so small, yet you can tell from hearing how wholehearted the support is from those who come, that if they had another 10,000 it would be an intimidating place.

"Paul is a top manager, and Dave Whelan [the Wigan chairman] knows that the crowds will be his biggest problem when it comes to keeping him." Jewell knows, however, that the key factor is results.

After Rob Hulse had cleverly diverted Stephen Quinn's low cross beyond the reach of Chris Kirkland in first-half stoppage time, Wigan's best efforts to avert a third home defeat in four came could not surmount the barrier put up by United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. A squad already stretched by injuries may be depleted further if the Football Association takes heed of television pictures showing Lee McCulloch's fist connecting with United's Chris Morgan in an incident missed by referee Peter Walton.

Goals: Hulse (45) 1-0.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce (Wright 65), Hall, De Zeeuw, Baines; McCulloch, Landzaat, Skoko, Kilbane (Todorov 79); Heskey, Camara (Cotterill 46). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Johansson.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Kozluk, Morgan, Davis, Geary; Gillespie, Tonge (Montgomery 70), Jagielka, S Quinn (Armstrong 70); Hulse, Webber (Bromby 88). Substitutes not used: Nade, Kazim-Richards.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Bookings: Sheff Utd: Morgan, Davis.

Attendance: 16,322.

Man of the match: Kenny.

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