Goals either side of the break from former Latics man Mohamed Diame and second half substitute Christian Atsu sealed the points at the DW Stadium as a clinical, resilient display from Rafa Benitez’s side ensured they’d earn the win in their final game before Christmas.
Benitez named an unchanged team following Saturday’s emphatic 4-0 victory over Birmingham City at St. James’ Park as United looked to pick up the three points that would see them leapfrog Brighton & Hove Albion to return to the second tier’s summit.
And his charges dominated possession early on, forcing a succession of corners before Diame stung the palms of Jussi Jaaskelainen with a fierce drive from the edge of the box inside the opening ten minutes.
Yoan Gouffran lifted a shot high over the crossbar shortly after as United sought to convert their dominance into a lead, though the division’s second-bottom club did offer a sporadic threat, with ex-Middlesbrough wideman Yannic Wildschut flashing a cross just past Karl Darlow’s right-hand post.
A low Matt Ritchie shot that skidded wide midway through the half, though, served as a warning or Wigan, and with just under 26 minutes on the clock, Warren Joyce’s men fell behind.
Newcastle broke at speed with Diame, who ran at the heart of the Wigan’s defence. His one-two with Isaac Hayden gave him the chance to continue his forward burst and, after some neat footwork allowed him to evade the attentions of the Latics’ defence and keep the chance alive, the Senegalese international confidently slotted the deadlock-breaker into the bottom right-hand corner to send the travelling Newcastle fans behind that goal wild.
And just a few minutes before the break, Jonjo Shelvey’s whipped delivery from the right was diverted just past his own post by substitute Andy Kellett as the Magpies continued to push. Leading goalscorer Dwight Gayle called veteran stopper Jaaskelainen into action again, this time with a free kick, and Shelvey saw his drive deflected wide as Benitez’s side ended the half firmly in the ascendency.
After the restart, the hosts came out purposefully, but initially struggled to make many inroads in the final third as Newcastle held firm. At the other end, Gouffran saw his shot from the edge of the box charged down and Shelvey’s curling effort from distance was held by Jaaskelainen as United looked to continue where they’d left off at the end of the first 45.
But Northern Ireland forward Will Grigg almost levelled for the hosts just before the hour, glancing Michael Jacobs’ inswinging corner just beyond Darlow’s upright as Wigan rallied.
Though the Magpies had had the better of the first half, the Latics began to apply some pressure during the final quarter of the match. When the ball fell to him in the box, full back Kellett took aim and was denied by Darlow, who parried his shot. With Joyce’s side now turning the screw, Jake Buxton nodded a cross high and wide as Benitez’s side were forced to show their mettle.
But with just over 12 minutes left on the clock, they made sure of the points. Paul Dummett won a header on the left, allowing Gouffran to race forwards and centre for Diame, who missed his kick. The ball ran kindly for Atsu, though, who lashed an upstoppable drive past Jaaskelainen to seal the victory and send over 4,000 travelling supporters home happy.
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