Latics knew before the start of the game that a win against Lancashire rivals Preston North End would return them to the top of the Coca Cola Championship and they achieved just that and in style as well.
Four goals in less than 30 second half minutes added to Lee McCulloch’s first half opener saw Paul Jewell’s side record their biggest ever victory over the Deepdale side and their first on home soil in over 12 years.
Much had been said in recent weeks about Wigan’s dip in form and without a win since the beginning of November it was easy to see why some were questioning their staying power in the race for promotion to the Premier League as the season approaches the half way mark.
Also the deadly strike partnership of Ellington and Roberts was devoid of a single goal from the previous six outings, in fact the latter had failed to hit the target in the last eight, a fact which hadn’t escaped the notice of the sceptics.
However the deadliest attack in the Championship found their scoring boots again with three goals between them, Ellington scoring his 99th and 100th career goals and Roberts his 11th of the season from the spot.
The friendship and understanding that the pair have developed over the years showed in the 79th minute when Ellington allowed Roberts the chance to end his goalscoring drought at the expense of a fifth career hat-trick.
Paul Jewell was available to name an unchanged side with Lee McCulloch recovering from an ankle injury that had seen him substituted early in the previous weekend’s game at Reading.
Meanwhile Preston had brought in Dickson Etuhu to replace the suspended Paul McKenna in an otherwise unchanged side from the one that had overwhelmed Derby County in their previous game.
Wigan threatened in the 10th minute with McCulloch’s effort from a Bullard cross kept out at the expense of a corner by French defender Youl Mawene with the resulting flag kick cleared by from Bury full back Chris Lucketti but only as far as Alan Mahon but the Wigan midfielder sent his attempt from outside of the area wide of the upright.
Preston were gifted a golden opportunity to grab the game’s opening goal in the 16th minute when Leighton Baines’ poor back pass sent Preston’s recent signing Chris Sedgwick racing clear on goal but he was stopped in his tracks by Baines who recovered well to get in a well timed challenge as the former Rotherham midfielder lined up his shot.
North End were now putting their hosts under the cosh and minutes later Patrick Agyemang used his pace to race clear down the left flank before pulling the ball back across goal to line up Graham Alexander with a shot on goal but the Scottish defender failed to add to the two goals he scored last weekend against Derby with his effort well blocked by the solid Wigan defence.
Then with 23 minutes on the clock Sedgwick delivered a pin point ball to Richard Cresswell but Preston’s leading marksman sent his shot well over John Filan’s crossbar.
However the action turned to the opposite end of the field and Wigan’s pressure eventually paid off. Alan Mahon’s shot was put behind off Alexander with Bullard’s corner put out by Etuhu for another corner.
This time LEE McCULLOCH was first to the ball, his bullet header crashing off the far post but the Scottish midfielder’s momentum carried him forward, crashing into Marlon Broomes enroute, before stabbing home the rebound which had landed perfectly for him in front of goal.
Preston responded well but failed to penetrate the Wigan rearguard who scrambled the ball away from a packed penalty area after the visitors had won a corner kick.
The ball was hoofed upfield and Broomes and Bullard both went for the loose ball with the former Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday defender seemingly coming off worse from the challenge and Bullard eventually seeing his name taken by the West Yorkshire official.
Latics almost doubled their lead in the 33rd minute when Roberts latched onto a Leighton Baines ball to the far post but keeper Jonathan Gould eventually collected after initially blocking the Wigan striker’s effort.
With the opening half drawing to a close Preston can count themselves unfortunate to have not been level at the half time whistle after Chris Lucketti powered home a Chris Sedgwick corner, rising highest above McCulloch to head into the far top corner over Nicky Eaden on the line.
However referee Martin Atkinson signalled that the Preston skipper had used pushed down on McCulloch as he went for the ball and disallowed the goal, the video replays later indicating that the decision had been harsh to say the least.
Preston were first out of the blocks for the restart, Sedgwick’s right wing centre finding Etuhu but the Algerian’s weak header never troubled Filan as it sailed harmlessly wide.
With the second half only 6 minutes old Wigan dealt the killer blow with Preston caught on the break. Nicky Eaden cleared a North End attack as far as the half way line where Ellington flicked the ball over the top to Roberts who found himself in acres of space with only Lucketti left covering at the back.
Roberts then slotted the ball into the area with a perfectly timed pass finding the in form ALAN MAHON who switched the ball to his left foot before placing his shot beyond Gould to score his fourth goal in eight games.
The game was over as a contest five minutes later when Latics added a third. Eaden combined with Teale down the right, the Scottish winger cutting inside and before charging into the area and sliding the ball to Roberts.
Roberts then barged his way to the byeline, holding off the challenge of Chris Lucketti, and then cleverly chipped the ball over the top of Gould’s outstretched arm where an unmarked NATHAN ELLINGTON leapt to power his header into an empty net from close range.
Roberts should have opened his afternoon’s account after 63 minutes after Ellington had done all the hard work to tee him up in front of goal but Gould denied him, saving with his feet.
Wigan were then denied what looked like a blatant penalty when Teale’s pace took him past Marlon Broomes inside the area but has the Wigan winger bore down on goal the Preston defender clipped his heels, bringing the Scot crashing to the ground but amazingly the referee ignored the appeals and waved play on.
However that didn’t matter much when the fourth goal went in. Bullard hammered the ball upfield to find NATHAN ELLINGTON out on the right and The Duke moved infield before looking up to pick his spot and lashing in a sweet left foot drive into the back of the net, taking a slight deflection off defender Claude Davis on its way past a stranded Gould.
Paul Jewell then decided to make a personnel change with David Wright replacing Bullard in a bid to tighten up the Wigan defence – not that Preston had any chance of getting themselves back into the game with less than 15 minutes remaining!
Things went from bad to worse for Preston whose travelling fans had already decreased significantly in numbers by this point. Ellington picked up the ball down the left wing and took it down the line, cut inside and sent a pass to Roberts in front of goal but before he had a chance to prod the ball home he was brought crashing down by Broomes who was cautioned for his troubles.
Most in the ground thought that Ellington would be the one to take the spot kick thus completing his hat trick but up stepped JASON ROBERTS to convert and convert he did after a little jinking run up, sending Gould the wrong way to fire home his eleventh goal of the current campaign.
The Lilywhites saw a couple of late chances go begging with Cresswell firing straight at Filan on both occasions – it just wasn’t their day!