Widnes survived a nerve-shredding Wigan fightback to hang on to a victory that vastly improves their chances of staying in Super League next season.
The home side, next to bottom of the table, were firmly in control at 20-4 with 15 minutes to play when Justin Murphy was sent to the sin-bin. His absence almost cost his tiring side a win they needed so badly as Wigan came back with two late tries.
There was never going to be an air of end-of-season aimlessness about this game. To add spice to it, the former Wigan coach, Frank Endacott, is now in the Widnes camp. Endacott's old club suffered an early blow when their influential scrum-half, Adrian Lam, went off with what looked like a recurrence of his knee injury.
As Wigan were adjusting, they were forced to defend for four sets of tackles until Steve McCurrie finally got the home side on the scoreboard, scrambling to his feet to complete his run when the tacklers lost contact with him. Willie Peters then missed with a drop goal and Widnes could not stretch their advantage.
They were unlucky not to be awarded a second try when Murphy reached over the line, only to be denied by a fractional knock-on in the build-up.
Peters and Jules O'Neill both failed with further drop goal attempts and O'Neill's 40th minute penalty made it 8-0 at the break.
Even with Lam back on the field at the start of the second half, Wigan could not find their missing rhythm. To make matters worse, Danny Tickle failed to find touch with a penalty and Widnes seized on their chance, Matthew Whitaker running straight and hard to score from Peters' pass, with O'Neill landing his third goal from the touchline.
Now, at last, Wigan came alive, with Gary Connolly scoring his 200th career try from Andy Farrell's fine pass. Farrell missed the conversion and Widnes came straight back with Paul Devlin's interception and run setting them up and Simon Finnigan scoring from another Peters pass.
Murphy went to the bin for grappling with Lam and all hell was suddenly let loose. Stephen Wild scored from Farrell's cross-kick and with six minutes to play Lam found a way through and another Farrell goal cut the margin to four points with plenty of time left.
But Widnes hung on, as they deserved to do and now have a four-point advantage over Castleford that could be too much for the Yorkshire side to make up.
Widnes: T Holmes; P Devlin, D Bird, A Hughes, J Murphy; Jules O'Neil, W Peters; Julian O'Neil, S Millard, S McCurrie, D Frame, A Hay, S Finnigan, Substitutes used: M Whitaker, D Mills, T Gallagher, S Myler
Wigan: K Radlinski; B Dallas, G Connolly, S Wild, M Aspinwall; S O'Loughlin, A Lam; T O'Connor, M Smith, P Prescott, A Farrell, D Tickle, G Hock. Substitutes used: M Cassidy, L Robinson, K Brown, H Hansen.
Referee: G Black (New Zealand).Reuse content