Paul Jewell was welcomed to the Premiership with a firm handshake and a patronising platitude from David O'Leary last summer. "I hope you stay up," said the Aston Villa manager who, in fairness, was probably articulating the thoughts of most of his peers at a pre-season gathering of the country's finest coaches. "I hope you do too," came the withering reply. Today, only Jewell no longer hopes for salvation.
A sublime volley from Jimmy Bullard and a second-half brace from Henri Camara enabled Wigan Athletic to complete a Premiership double over Villa last night and to rekindle their dreams of securing a place in next season's Uefa Cup. For Villa, however, the euphoria of Easter Sunday's derby win against Birmingham City has soured rapidly. O'Leary's side are not mathematically certain of their Premiership future with only three games left, the impetus of the derby failing to inspire more than a mediocre performance at the JJB Stadium, and while it would require a remarkable sequence of results for relegation to hit Villa Park it will not be lost on chairman Doug Ellis that his more humble hosts last night passed the 40-point barrier two months and nine matches ago.
Jewell, too content with 51 points to remind O'Leary of their past encounter, said: "I never imagined us getting to 50 points at the start of the season. I was looking at 40 and 17th place, as that would have had them dancing in the streets. The requirement was staying in the league and we have done that at a canter. We have shown to others that we are a club moving forwards, that we are ambitious." The same can hardly be said of Villa, however.
With the visitors reaching the highpoint of their season on Sunday and Wigan winning only two of their previous 14 games both sides seemed to be meandering towards the finishing line during a lacklustre opening before Bullard's fine strike in the 25th minute. Gary Teale and Jason Roberts combined and though Gary Cahill intervened his clearance fell in front of the midfielder who, from 25 yards and with both feet in the air, controlled a volley into the top left-hand corner of the Villa net.
Wigan had taken the lead in their previous four games, and having failed to win any it was no surprise Jewell used his programme notes to bemoan his side's inability to finish off opponents. Those concerns resurfaced in the 53rd minute when Juan Pablo Angel converted a left-wing cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor but, for once, Wigan produced a convincing response. Two goals in four minutes from Camara should have ended the contest only for Wigan's vulnerability to enable Liam Ridgewell to ensure a nervous finale when he steered a deflected cross through the legs of John Filan.
O'Leary' assistant, Roy Aitken, said: "We were in a position to win the game but once again we gave two slack goals away." A fine effort in disguising the truth.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Chimbonda, Henchoz, Scharner, Baines; Teale, Francis (Kavanagh, 79), Bullard, Ziegler (McCulloch, 81); Roberts, Camara. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Taylor, Johansson.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes (De La Cruz, 66), Cahill, Ridgewell, Samuel; Milner, Gardner (Agbonlahor, 46), McCann, Barry; Angel, Baros. Substitutes not used:Taylor (gk), Bouma, Phillips.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).Reuse content