Away wins for sides in the lower reaches of the Premier League are few and far between, so survival for the likes of Wigan Athletic depends on claiming maximum points from just such games as this one yesterday.
West Ham United, whoarrived fresh from their midweek defeat of Liverpool, might argue that this was a similarly obvious opportunity for them to move upwards but the north-west side could certainly claim the more pressing need.
They began the day in the relegation places but ended a run of three consecutive defeats with this hard-fought victory to lift themselves to safety – for another week at least.
Kevin Kilbane, who was 31 last Friday, celebrated his 50th Premier League start for Wigan by scoring his first goal of the season – and only his second for the club – with a header in first-half injury time. It proved enough to settle the match and condemn West Ham to only a second league defeat in eight matches.
"We've been playing well at home recently without getting a result and, although this was a tough match, I thought we thoroughly deserved the three points," said Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, who had reverted, as expected, to 4-4-2 after his unsuccessful experiment with three strikers at Middlesbrough. "Now we have Sunderland then Derby," added Bruce. "Certainly the players are committed. This might have been a good time for us to get West Ham after their win against Liverpool and we took advantage."
Wigan threatened on several occasions in the first half through deliveries from Ryan Taylor, so it came as no surprise that one eventually led to the home side going ahead. First, an inswinging free-kick on the left washeaded behind as Emile Heskey, who was later withdrawn with an injury that will keep him out of England's upcoming friendly against Switzerland, threatened to convert it.
Then a cross fell to Emerson Boyce six yards out but by the time the central defender had rearranged his feet both the ball and the chance were gone. Taylor even managed an attempt on goal himself but his sweetly struck free-kick flashed just beyond the post.
The game was into injury time in the first half before Wigan were finally able to profit from a Taylor delivery that foundKilbane unmarked at the far post and the Irishman directed a header back across goal and into the far corner.
That apart, the action was forgettable, with the pitch producing the sort of bounces you would usually expect to see at Twickenham.
To their credit, Wigan continued to seek a second goal rather than sit back and try to protect their narrow advantage. Craig Bellamy was sent on for his first appearance since October but Wigan continued to force the pace.
Matthew Upson cleared off the line for West Ham and the ball broke for Antonio Valencia to hit a ferocious drive that struck first one post and then the other before rebounding away. Had that gone in, a nervy ending would have been avoided.
"We knew how hard it was going to be and we knew it would be scrappy," said Alan Curbishley, the West Ham manager."I would have taken a point during the game but it's a big win for Wigan and I don't begrudge them it."Reuse content