Wigan Athletic 1, Everton 2: Bramble slip keeps Everton on the up

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The Independent Online

Everton moved into the Premier League's top four – at least until Liverpool play tonight – largely on the strength of a return by Titus Bramble to his bad old ways.

Since arriving at Wigan, Bramble has generally shed his unwanted reputation as the most accident-prone of defenders. For 38 minutes yesterday, he played a composed part in a steady Wigan performance, but then came up with a moment that will surely loom large in his personal lowlights DVD.

Bramble had read Mikel Arteta's through-ball for Andy Johnson and moved up to cut it out, only to miss completely his kick and leave the Everton striker with a clear run on goal. All he needed to do was keep his head and slide his shot under Chris Kirkland, which he duly did.

"We looked the better team for 40 minutes, then made a mistake which cost us the game," said Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, who indirectly blamed Bramble's error for the second Everton goal soon after. "It affected us from the corner as well," he said. "I didn't think we recovered. Unfortunately for Titus, he's made a horrible mistake. He's been terrific since I arrived, and he's got all the attributes to be a really top footballer. The only thing he has to work on is the concentration element."

Everton's David Moyes was happy enough to agree that his side had won by virtue of Bramble and a scramble. "We didn't play well in the first half and were fortunate to go in two goals up," he said. "But Andy Johnson worried them, and the mistake came with the worries he'd given them."

For Bruce, who said his side could have done little more, there were a number of positives to reflect upon. The Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios made an immediate impression on his home debut, with his heavy involvement and obvious tenacity. He was central to all Wigan's best early work, battling to get in a shot, putting a cross on to Emile Heskey's head and producing a lovely through ball for Marcus Bent.

Only slowly did Everton begin to assert themselves, and then at the cost of a booking for Arteta, for the heinous sin of taking a free-kick too quickly. From another free-kick almost immediately, Lee Carsley had the first Everton chance of the game, a volley just over the top. Johnson's run and Arteta's shot required a reaction save from Kirkland, followed by one just as good from Tim Howard at the other end to deny Bent.

It took Tim Cahill's legs to block an Antonio Valencia shot that could have been goal-bound as Wigan continued to have more than their share of the action. There was a warning for them, however, in the way Johnson chased a clearance from Howard to get in a shot on target.

He was showing similar willingness when presented with his chance by Bramble, and the die was cast for Wigan after that. Within three minutes they were two down, Phil Jagielka hooking on Arteta's corner at the near post, and Joleon Lescott dispatching it at the far. It was the Everton defender's seventh goal of the season in all competitions, a remarkable effort from a player whose main responsibilities lie elsewhere.

Bruce brought on two substitutes early in the second half, and one of them, Jason Koumas, made an instant impact. With his first touch, he put in a free-kick from the right that had everybody leaping and lunging. Again it was Jagielka who got the vital touch, but this time past Howard and into his own net.

Wigan were a team revived, their other substitute, with Antoine Sibierski, setting up Valencia for a shot, and Palacios having a fair-to-middling penalty claim turned down. They had a number of other half-chances, the last lofted high over the bar by Bent in time added on, but this was a game in which an isolated error cost them dear.

For Everton, the extra significance was this was their second win since losing three key players to the African Nations Cup. The evidence of those results is that they are not going to be shaken off easily.

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