"We're not Real Madrid," Paul Jewell had said in mitigation of his team's mediocre results. "We're Wigan." No one, however, should under-estimate Manchester City's time-honoured ability to make the most humdrum of opponents resemble world-beaters.
Nor is Emile Heskey a Thierry Henry. True, his name was on the lips of England fans during the World Cup, if only when they taunted Germans by singing "5-1, even Heskey scored". And yet, two years after the last of his 43 caps, Jewell's £5.5m striker looked an international down to his tie-ups. His finishing and link play were of high quality. More ominously for Stuart Pearce, he also embarrassed City with his work-rate.
Pearce invariably disdains praise of "effort", rightly insisting it is the least that should be expected of handsomely paid professionals. It might be productive, nevertheless, if he sat the City squad, particularly Georgios Samaras and Bernardo Corradi, in front of a DVD and instructed them to study how selflessly Heskey nipped moves in the bud, as well as materialising at right-back and in central defence.
As if a deficit in endeavour were not bad enough, City were bereft of leadership, creativity, penetration, and, crucially, the blistering pace possessed by Heskey's partner, Henri Camara, and the Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia. Tellingly, they were also short of support. Last season they took 5,000 fans to Wigan; this time it was 1,900 and Pearce admitted they were not playing well enough to merit a larger following.
The 19-month tenure of the former "Psycho" ought to be secure for now. At home, City remain unbeaten and have not conceded a goal. But, given the club's debts and the media-rights windfall that awaits Premiership survivors next year, he will come under pressure if results at Eastlands deteriorate. Pearce called on the players to "roll up their sleeves and fight". This, though, was not a side in his own image.
They lurched from the supine to the ridiculous, conceding two goals in the space of two minutes in either half. Heskey's brutal half-volley was practically unstoppable, the headed own goal by Richard Dunne comical. City had four forwards on the pitch when Camara prodded the third following Leighton Baines' textbook overlap, while Valencia bludgeoned a thrilling fourth after his run was picked out by Heskey.
If Jewell was not willing to advise Steve McClaren whom he should be picking for England, he was only too happy to highlight Heskey's credentials. "Emile is a tremendous team player," he said. "He's strong, lean and as fit as he has ever been. He set us on our way with a wonderful goal, but as he showed, there's more to being a striker than scoring goals."
The Wigan manager has detected a flaw in the former Birmingham and Liverpool player. Asked whether he wanted him to "knock people around" more, he knew where the questioner was coming from. "Within the rules. Sometimes you wish he was more of a bastard. He's too nice a lad, but I'm not going to try to change him at 28. I just need to make him believe he has all the tools in the box, because he has."
Heskey's contribution, like those of Baines and Valencia, must be viewed in the context of City's incompetence. Jewell is rebuilding - only three players remain from the starting XI in last season's fixture - which helps to explain Wigan's patchy run. They had not won by more than one goal all year. They will be fortunate if, in their remaining 30 matches, they encounter such generosity again.
Goals: Heskey (2) 1-0; Dunne og (4) 2-0; Camara (65) 3-0; Valencia (67) 4-0.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, Hall (Webster, h-t), De Zeeuw, Baines; Valencia (Teale, 83), Scharner, Skoko (Landzaat, 31), Kilbane; Camara, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), McCulloch.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Weaver; M Mills (Vassell, 60), Dunne, Richards, Jordan; Hamann (Dickov, h-t); Sinclair, Johnson, Barton, Samaras; Corradi. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Laird, Onuoha.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Booked: Wigan Webster; Manchester City Hamann.
Man of the match: Heskey.
Attendance: 16,235.Reuse content