Wigan Athletic 1 Newcastle United 0

Wigan hit heights as Souness fumes over the 'goal' that wasn't
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The Independent Football

Should his team have won a second-half penalty when Shola Ameobi appeared to be caught by Wigan goalkeeper John Filan as he chased a long ball into the area? Referee Phil Dowd declined to act. It provoked fury from Souness on the touchline, which resulted in a face-to-face confrontation with Dowd, during which the Newcastle manager was commanded to calm down by the Stoke official. "I hold my hands up," Souness said, later displaying contrition. "I was wrong. Shola told me it wasn't a penalty."

Did Alan Shearer's downward header, a few minutes later, from Belozoglu Emre's inswinging corner, cross the line as Leighton Baines cleared? The assistant referee was in a good position to assess it as he was standing next to the corner flag, and he said no.

"I've not seen the replay, but I understand it did go over the line. I would love to sit here and be really honest and say what I really feel," said Souness. "But I can't. I am under strict instructions from my wife. I can't keep handing over our money to the FA."

Television evidence was not conclusive, and the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, maintained that Shearer had been pushing his centre-back Arjan De Zeeuw, anyway. In truth, Souness, who claimed that the use of technology to determine such debates was "only a matter of time", should be rather more troubled with this modest performance which scarcely merited a point. Not even England's present and past strikers supreme, Shearer and Michael Owen - whom Wigan tried to sign before he moved to St James' Park - could disturb an astonishing run of form from Paul Jewell's men, although Lee Bowyer did strike a post in the first half.

As the Wigan manager said after his side's fifth victory of the season: "We had two England captains playing against us, but we resisted them brilliantly. I can't remember John [Filan] having to make a decent save."

And so, this Lancashire town where thoughts may otherwise have been on the finale of the oval-ball season, could, at least briefly, watch their team accommodate a 19th-floor apartment in the Premiership prestige block, just beneath the penthouse boys, when most suspected that they would be languishing in the basement by now.

"Sing at the rugby, you only sing at the rugby," the Toon followers had taunted the home supporters in the first half. That lack of respect for their hosts caught in their throats after 10 minutes when Jason Roberts eluded Steven Taylor before striking the base of the near post.

Then, five minutes before the break, Damien Francis supplied the incisive pass which offered Roberts the invitation to force what transpired to be the winner past the Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given.

Will Wigan continue to have a head for such heights? Not every team will prove as compliant as Newcastle. Jewell knows his team face Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United before Christmas. "It's going to be a long, hard winter," warned the September manager of the month. Souness, meanwhile, attributed an insipid first half from his men in part to international exertions. He maintained that they improved after Emre appeared. Perhaps, but the difference was marginal.

Athletic don't score many but are so resolute at the rear they don't concede many either. Just five all season, and their inspired summer acquisitions, Stéphane Henchoz and De Zeeuw, are primarily responsible for that.

Wigan's afternoon was tainted only by the dismissal of Lee McCulloch in the closing minutes for kicking out at Emre. His manager was rather more concerned about Henri Camara's reaction after being substituted late on. Evidently displeased, the Senegal player went to walk straight down the tunnel, but Jewell summoned him back. "He showed disrespect to his team-mates. I'm disappointed with him," said Jewell.

When these clubs last met 51 years ago, at Springfield Park, Dave Whelan was playing the trombone for Wigan Boys' Club in the pre-match entertainment. These days, the Wigan chairman can contentedly trumpet his club's arrival in the Premiership. How long, though, before his counterpart, Freddy Shepherd, whose team have accumulated just two League victories this season, blows the whistle on Souness?