They gained salvation in a game that was their Premiership season in miniature. They began badly, going behind to a goal from Henri Camara, but rescued themselves with a pulsating finale. Benjani Mwaruwari, who had not scored since his £4.1 million transfer from Auxerre, struck and Matthew Taylor got the winner with a penalty.
Never has manager Harry Redknapp lived up so much to his Harry Houdini reputation. With 10 matches to go Portsmouth were eight points adrift of safety but a run that has accrued 20 points from nine games swept then out of reach of now relegated Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion.
It is a finish that has finally breached the gap between manager and supporters created by his move to Southampton and back. The "Judas" of last autumn was the saviour yesterday and at the end the supporters demanded his appearance before them. "We want Harry" they sang, and this time it was not to lynch him.
"It's been a terrific run," Redknapp said. "When I came back to Portsmouth I knew I was putting myself under severe pressure. And it's not been easy. We started OK, had a dip in the middle and came back strongly." How did it rate in terms of his managerial career? "It's right up there," he replied.
In their previous game, against Sunderland, Portsmouth had betrayed evidence of their nerves but they began this game with a swagger and Svetoslav Todorov should have put them ahead after five minutes, his header from four yards flying over the bar.
This encouraged Pompey to gamble and they should have been punished in a 20-minute-spell when Camara could have scored four. Three times Dean Kiely won the battle of the one-on-one and the only time Camara prevailed his celebration was cut short by a belated, and incorrect, offside flag.
Even Robert the Bruce might have been tempted to chuck in the towel after this run of failures, but Camara was rewarded for his perseverance after 34 minutes. David Thompson crossed from the left, Matt Jackson's header was just clawed to safety by Kiely but as the ball bounced along the line even Camara could not miss.
Pompey were creaking, but so were Wigan and Leighton Baines had to clear off his line when Sean Davis's header from Andres D'Alessandro's corner had curled beyond Mike Pollitt's dive and Gary O'Neil's looping shot from 25 yards out clipped the bar in the 38th minute.
Given Camara's misses, Portsmouth could hardly have been rueing their luck at the interval, although they probably were within three minutes of the restart. Mwaruwari wriggled along the byline and passed to Todorov who was no more than two yards from the goal. Whether he was surprised to be so close is debatable but he was certainly so far off with his shot that it appeared to defy physics by clearing the bar by a matter of feet.
With the game seemingly slipping away from the visitors, there was a sudden shift in power after 62 minutes. Taylor won a 50-50 ball in the Wigan area and hit the post with a left-foot shot. The ball bounced up and Mwaruwari headed in.
The momentum had swung emphatically towards Pompey and after 71 minutes they struck. Todorov went round goalkeeper Pollitt and when his cross found Mwaruwari his header hit Gary Teale's raised arm. The Wigan winger was sent off for deliberate handball and, for a second successive match, Taylor converted a penalty.
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