Wigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
A TRY and a drop goal from Joe Lydon in the last nine minutes pulled Wigan back from the brink of their first defeat in the Challenge Cup for six years.
The sense of relief in the Wigan dressing-room said it all. They had led this quarter-final for just 30 seconds of a thrilling tie at a snowswept Thrum Hall - but they were the last 30 seconds.
The try that brought them level was the result of a disastrous mix- up in the Halifax defence. On the last tackle, Shaun Edwards put up a high kick which the full-back, Warren Wilson, seemed to have covered. The former Wigan winger, Mark Preston, went for the same ball and the inevitable collision let it run towards the line for Lydon to pick up and score.
Frano Botica's two points from the goal kick made it 18-18, but Halifax still looked the more likely side to snatch a win and a place in the semi-finals when Mike McLean made a break only for his pass to go behind Greg Austin.
Wigan manoeuvred themselves into position for one drop-goal attempt after that let-off, but when the Halifax defence read their intentions, Martin Dermott tried a little kick of his own. Lydon positioned himself deeper for the second attempt in the last minute and this time there was no mistake.
Lydon has specialised in vital drop goals in big matches but attributed this one to Wigan's collective ability to keep their heads. 'We kept our cool and that's what won us the match,' he said.
Wigan had fought their way back three times, showing their determination not to give up a trophy they have made virtually their own. A high kick by Edwards that was caught in the icy wind allowed Graeme Hallis to run 50 yards for Halifax's opening try, improved by Paul Bishop, and it took Wigan most of the first half to get on terms.
Phil Clarke, outstanding in the pack, gave the telling pass to Dean Bell for a 21st-minute try and Botica landed a penalty after Bishop had fouled Edwards.
A powerful run by Brent Stuart, bouncing out of Lydon's tackle, set up Austin for the try that put Halifax ahead again and a Bishop penalty put them eight points up.
Botica put over his second goal and another damaging run by Clarke opened the way for Sam Panapa to narrow the gap to two points, but Halifax seemed to have the tie won when Hallis went over for his second.
Halifax: Wilson; Bentley (Fieldhouse, 39), Hallis, Austin, Preston; Bailey, Bishop; Harrison, Southernwood, Stuart (McLean, 63), Lord, Perrett, Divorty.
Wigan: Hampson; Robinson, Lydon, Farrar, Offiah (Panapa, 48); Botica, Edwards; Skerrett (Cowie, 30; Skerrett, 57), Dermott, Platt, Betts, Clarke, Bell.
Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).
Hull KR and Widnes must replay at Naughton Park on Wednesday after yesterday's 4-4 draw at Craven Park.
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