Wigan Athletic 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1: Heskey calms Wigan nerves but race for survival intensifies

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The Independent Online

As Steve Bruce looks forward, an undesirable prospect looms. What if Wigan Athletic require a win in their last game of the season to survive in the Premier League? And the opponents Manchester United also need the points to claim the title?

It is a loser risks all scenario that has the Wigan manager urgently wanting his team to reach safety before 11 May, so this draw with Tottenham Hotspur left him wanting. On the one hand his team inched nearer to the 40-point safety mark, on the other Bolton Wanderers' win at Middlesbrough trimmed the margin for error.

Wigan's cushion between themselves and the relegation places was reduced to five points and, although their supporters finished this match chanting "We are staying up", there was a hint of wishful thinking in their voices. They should be in the top division next season but it is not certain by any means.

"Bolton's result has thrown them a lifeline, but we have gone up two places," Bruce said, emphasising the positive. "The important thing is that it's in our hands. We have Reading at home next Saturday and if we beat them we're safe. You couldn't ask for anything better with three games to play."

Bruce's philosophical response owed a lot to Tottenham's first-half performance, which he described as the best by a visiting team since he arrived last autumn.

Within six minutes Spurs were ahead when Tom Huddlestone delivered a sumptuous pass to the right, Aaron Lennon's cross skimmed off the head of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov was lurking near the penalty spot to prod past Chris Kirkland for his 23rd goal of the season.

The goal could have spread nerves through the home ranks but, to their credit, Wigan equalised six minutes later. Kevin Kilbane and Marcus Bent played a one-two and the former hit a first-time pass towards Emile Heskey. The England striker is often accused of not using his impressive frame enough but on this occasion he did, turning Didier Zokora and shooting low into the corner of the net.

The goals heralded a first half of such openness both managers had to go to the touchline in search of disciplined defending. Marcus Bent and Wilson Palacios had shots saved by Spurs goalkeeper Radek Cerny while, at the other end, Keane had a header cleared off the line by Ryan Taylor and Berbatov complained bitterly for being dragged back by Mario Melchiot in the 33rd minute. Judging by the television replays, he had grounds for complaint.

The tale of near misses continued after the interval when Lennon cut in from the right in the 51st minute, left Kilbane kicking at space and was stopped only by Kirkland's block.

Then Heskey controlled Palacios's cross with his chest only to be thwarted by Alan Hutton flicking the ball away just as the shot was about to be delivered. The home team came even closer to scoring after 59 minutes when Palacios, one of the Premier League's revelations of the season, split the Tottenham centre-backs with another immaculate pass.

Marcus Bent, clear on goal, faked to shoot across Cerny, then went for the other side only for his drive to hit the bar.

"It was a wonderful pass by Wilson," Bruce said. "You think in those situations, 'Just hit the target' and it's a goal. But there's a fine dividing line between success and failure in those situations."

Cerny also made a double save from Antonio Valencia and Heskey but that was Wigan's last surge and now much will depend on what happens against Reading. It will be a nervous seven days.

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