Wigan on top after dramatic win

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The Independent Online

Victory over an 11-man Bradford with the last kick of the match put Wigan on top of Super League amid drama that put even this season's previous meetings between these two sides in the shade.

Victory over an 11-man Bradford with the last kick of the match put Wigan on top of Super League amid drama that put even this season's previous meetings between these two sides in the shade.

Apparently out of contention at 19-2, Wigan eventually found their way through a Bradford defence that had dominated them. As the pressure told in the last ten minutes, Scott Naylor and Stuart Spruce were both sin-binned in separate incidents. Against a sure-handed defence, Andy Farrell sent Steve Renouf down the left and Kris Radlinski arrived in support to complete a seven-yard try.

That still left Farrell to kick the winning goal from half-way to the touch-line, but the Wigan supporters in a record crowd for the JJB Stadium were already on their feet before it went between the uprights.

It was a game that Wigan never looked like winning until those desperate final minutes. "This game just gets better and better," their coach, Frank Endacott, who hardly realised how precise his prediction would be, said afterwards.

"Funnily enough, at half-time I told the players to hang in there and that we could win it - even with a second to go. It was a great effort."

The early stages had been a nightmare for Wigan, with Bradford's whirlwind start forcing them into mistakes that cost them two early tries.

Radlinski uncharacteristically failed to take a high kick from Henry Paul to allow Leon Pryce to score within the first minute.

Bradford's second try was far more embarrassing for Wigan than that, with James Lowes taking a return pass from Brian McDermott and strolling through without a hand being laid on him.

Paul added the goal against his old club and although Farrell replied with a penalty for Wigan, they could have been in deeper trouble if Jamie Peacock had managed to ground the ball after battling his way through a crowd of Wigan players on the try-line.

When Wigan did manage to mount some pressure of their own, they found the Bradford defence rock solid. It was their own which continued to creak, Wes Davies losing the ball and Terry Newton trying to steal it back to give Paul another two points.

With Lowes and Tony Mestrov in the sin-bin after a flurry of blows, Wigan had their best chances of the half, Gary Connolly failing to take Farrell's hard, flat pass and Betts not getting his pass away to the supporting Newton when he made a clean break.

Tevita Vaikona threatened to take the ball straight back to the other end to punish Wigan, but Bradford settled for the extra point before half-time, via a drop-goal from Paul Deacon.

Lowes and Paul carved out a lovely try for Naylor two minutes into the second half and even when Wigan finally made their breakthrough, Newton gathering Renouf's in-field kick, they seemed to have left themselves too much to do.

But with ten minutes to go, Betts finally found a gap in the Bradford line and Farrell's kick put them within a converted try of an unlikely win.

The balance swung when Naylor was sin-binned for obstructing Jason Robinson, closely followed by Spruce for interfering at the play-the-ball.

"The Bulls" coach, Matthew Elliott, thought that harsh was too gentle a word to describe those decisions from the referee Russell Smith. "They were things outside our control," he said. "But what a pity to be talking about them after such a magnificent performance by two outstanding sides."

Even with 11 men, Bradford seemed to have kept their composure until that final breakaway. Farrell kept his by taking himself away from the try-scoring celebrations and "treating it like a training kick - head down, eyes shut."

Wigan: Radlinski; Davies, Renouf, Connolly, Robinson; Farrell, Peters; O'Connor, Newton, Cowie, Cassidy, Betts, Gilmour. Substitutes used: Mestrov, Malam, T Smith, Chester.

Bradford: Spruce; Vaikona, Naylor, Brooker, Pryce; H Paul, Deacon; McDermott, Lowes, Anderson, Peacock, Forshaw, Mackay. Substitutes used: H Smith, Fielden, Boyle, McAvoy.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

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