Goals early in the second half from Gaby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young started to put some daylight between big-spending Aston Villa and any risk of relegation as they defeated Wigan last night.
The result was a little harsh on one of the sides who must fight the drop without the sort of investment Villa have made in their survival. "They had the chance to go level with us, so it was just like a cup game," said the Villa manager, Gérard Houllier, as he surveyed his side's first back-to-back wins of the season.
Wigan were the better side in the first half and it would have been no injustice if they had crowned their late fightback with an equaliser. "Once we conceded the two goals it was a huge task," said their manager, Roberto Martinez. "But I was really pleased and proud of the reaction of the players."
Following Darren Bent's match-winning debut against Manchester City last weekend, Villa were able to introduce a second high-profile recruit in Jean Makoun, the Cameroonian midfielder signed from Lyons.
No such luxuries for Martinez, for whom Charles N'Zogbia was the prime reason why Villa could never quite relax in the first half. After Franco Di Santo put a glancing header on to the roof of the net, N'Zogbia had a couple of decent shooting chances, as did Hugo Rodallega. The better of those was set up by some lovely close control from James McCarthy and deserved more than to be blazed wildly over the bar.
At the other end, Villa were not short of high-priced threat. As early as the fifth minute, the £24m man found himself in a crowded penalty area with the ball at his feet, but Bent could only scuff his shot. Stewart Downing and Bent also both had efforts blocked at the foot of the post during their side's most threatening spell.
A ball won and cleverly flicked on by Bent in midfield released Ashley Young at the start of the second half, indirectly setting up the goal that put Villa ahead.
Although his initial effort was palmed over, the second of his ensuing corners produced the breakthrough. Carlos Cuellar's header was clawed out, but Agbonlahor was there by the left-hand upright to finish the job with his first Premier League goal of the season.
Wigan appeared to be sunk without trace when Downing's lovely pass released Young, for him to be brought down by Hendry Thomas and complete the formalities from the penalty spot.
Wigan had new hope, however, when McCarthy's shot took a wicked deflection past Brad Friedel. Either Rodallega or Ben Watson could have tied it up in the dying minutes, but Villa hung on to complete an excellent few days.
Wigan Athletic (4-1-4-1): Al Habsi; Boyce (Stam, 66), S Caldwell, Gohouri, Figueroa; Thomas; N'Zogbia, McCarthy (McManaman, 85), McArthur, Thomas (Watson, 66), Rodallega; Di Santo.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Baker; Downing, Makoun (Petrov, 57), Reo-Coker, Agbonlahor (Albrighton, 77); Bent, Young (Herd, 88).
Referee J Moss (West Yorkshire).
Man of the match Downing.
Match rating 7/10.