Without their two leading marksmen Andy Liddell and Nathan Ellington plus the absence of skipper Jason De Vos, Wigan were stretched to the limits, so much so that youth team player Chris Lynch was named amongst the substitutes.
Ian Breckin lined up alongside Matt Jackson for only his fifth league start since joining the club last summer. However their partnership in the centre of defence was prematurely cut short when Jackson limped off the field with a knee injury with only 24 minutes on the clock.
The game however didn’t get off to the best of starts for Paul Jewell’s side with the visitors going straight upfield from the kick off and scoring with one of the fastest goals seen at the JJB Stadium.
David Eyres sent the ball across the pitch with Clive Winjhard and Josh Low then combining to release WAYNE ANDREWS in the area who hit the ball superbly past John Filan and into the far corner of the goal.
The travelling army of Oldham fans went wild sensing victory but their celebrations were dampened 8 minutes later when Gary Teale raced down the right flank before sending the ball over to the far post for NEIL ROBERTS to rise above the defence to nod home his fifth league goal of the season.
Matt Jackson required treatment just after the 20 minute mark but returned to the thick of the action only to be replaced by Paul Mitchell minutes later, the stand-in captain limping gingerishly from the field and putting a further strain on Jewell’s already depleted squad ahead of their trip to Cardiff this weekend.
The situation worsened 6 minutes later when midfielder Jason Jarrett was removed from the pitch after taking a knock to his head and looks doubtful for the next game after suffering concussion.
John Filan did well to deny David Eyres from restoring Oldham’s lead after they had been awarded a free kick in the 26th minute in a dangerous position right on the edge of the penalty area.
The veteran Oldham striker stepped up and sent a low curling drive past the wall but Filan, who could only have seen the ball at the last moment, got down to his right to save by the post.
The game was being played at a terrific pace as totally expected for a local derby between two top of the table sides but the first half finished level with neither able to add a second goal.
The second half continued to be played at a frenzy and it took a number of fine saves from Oldham keeper David Miskelly to ensure that the score stayed respectable, well for the first 25 minutes or so anyway.
Lee McCulloch was the first to be denied by Miskelly when his low drive on 50 minutes from just inside the box was pushed around the post and 10 minutes later substitute Tony Dinning, on for the injured Jarrett, hit a blinder from 25 yards which the keeper somehow managed to tip over the bar at the expense of a corner.
Shortly after the hour mark Dinning came within inches of an embarrassing own goal when he slid in to challenge Wayne Andrews on the edge of his own penalty area and the former Wolves midfielder could only watch as the ball trickled past Filan’s right hand post, the Wigan keeper unable to hide his smile at the thought of a bit of micky taking had the ball actually gone in.
Wigan then took the game by the scruff of the neck and were rewarded with 20 minutes to go when JIMMY BULLARD stepped up with his first goal in a Wigan shirt from 25 yards out with a sweetly taken free kick from 25 yards out sending the ball over the wall and into the back of the net.
They weren’t finished there though as a third goal arrived 10 minutes later when Gary Teale picked out NEIL ROBERTS who waltzed past an Oldham defender before rattling the ball over Miskelly and into the roof of the net from just inside the area.
Oldham did have one final throw of the dice when centre half Fitz Hall moved upfield but found Filan in his way, the Aussie blocking his effort at the near post.
Neil Roberts saw a shot fly wide of the upright as he went in search of his first ever senior hat trick and Gary Teale saw his own effort go likewise as Wigan pushed for a 4th goal for the first time this season.
The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the Wigan fans who wanted to celebrate their side’s title success with Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ echoing around the ground from the stadium’s public address system.
The performance was later described by Paul Jewell as the finest of the season and that it just went to show why his side were top of the league.
The worrying thing though is that Jewell only had 15 fit professionals before the start of the game and with Jackson and Bullard adding themselves to the queue outside physio Alex Cribley’s treatment room the squad that travels to South Wales will be threadbare to say the least.
It’s a good job that they’ve already achieved what they set out to do last August.