Wigan 1 City 2

THE manager was waiting on the touchline for City to finish their post-match celebrations with the travelling army.

He wanted to shake the hand of every one of them to acknowledge a job wonderfully done.

Paul Cook was magnanimous in his reaction to Wigan's first league defeat at the DW Stadium since March.

He knew City had earned it and was big enough to salute the better side by pressing the flesh as the players returned to the sanctuary of the away dressing room for a well-deserved breather.

How refreshing to see the way the Wigan boss reacted in defeat – in comparison to the manner with which Derek Adams had talked up Plymouth's smash and grab at Valley Parade in the previous game.

Cook, a silky player in his pomp, did not attempt to create a smokescreen with his comments after Wigan's unbeaten home run since relegation fell at the tenth attempt.

City had not been tempted to bring Plymouth's bus. They had gone toe to toe with the hosts, trading attacks with them, and emerged as worthy winners of a cracking contest that did League One proud.

A sweet response to that previous home frustration and a fitting riposte from Stuart McCall after the predictable but over-the-top clog he had received in some quarters in the days since.

His public pronouncement in the week that Wigan are his tip to finish top was dismissed by the keyboard critics as an admission of his own inferiority.

Yet he had maintained with genuine confidence that City had it in their capability to halt the Latics' progress.

Once more his team had proved they do not suffer hangovers. The run since the Bantams last suffered back-to-back league defeats has now stretched to 88 games.

It would have been easy against the so-called biggest boys of the league to retreat into a shell as the away side.

You see it every week on Match of the Day as visiting clubs step out at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad with a trepidation that suggests they are beaten before a ball has even been kicked.

A visit to Wigan is the third-tier equivalent. Only two teams – Blackburn and Portsmouth – had left with any reward before Saturday and both had relied heavily on defence in numbers and a fair share of good fortune.

But City needed neither. True, they worked manfully at the back, where Matt Kilgallon's standard line-leading display was matched by the sturdy effort of full back Luke Hendrie on his less natural left side.

Their real strength, though, was based on a willingness to go at Wigan from the off. With a quarter of the crowd, by far the noisiest quarter, screaming them on, City took the game to them throughout.

Cook had been at Valley Parade the week before to see McCall's men batter away at Plymouth's massed ranks without finding a hole.

He knew what type of game to expect. "No chance of it being 0-0 today," were his final words to his managerial counterpart before battle commenced.

McCall had showed his hand with the team selection, throwing the maverick figure of in-form Paul Taylor into the role of second striker to accommodate the return of winger Alex Gilliead.

Hendrie's inclusion at left back was a surprise but the City boss was not after overlapping defenders on this occasion. He felt the attacking four offered enough threat on a big surface made for carrying the ball quickly and with purpose.

The positive philosophy that McCall had encouraged on the training ground was apparent from the opening drive, Jake Reeves bursting to the byline for a cut-back that had Charlie Wyke swishing at thin air.

That botched opportunity from six yards out was compounded from the resulting corner as Nathaniel Knight-Percival tried to belt the cover off the ball with a far-post volley and cleared the bar when all it needed was a placed connection.

Following on from the catalogue of 'if only' moments from the previous game, any twitchiness in the travelling ranks would have been understandable. McCall later admitted that he too feared they might end up regretting the early wastefulness.

But City kept on coming and had their reward after 14 minutes.

Reeves was in there again to see Jamie Jones save his effort and Hendrie, also popping up in the box, was thwarted with a firm follow-up by Dan Burn.

But Wigan could not scramble the loose ball clear and Wyke plunged in for his eighth goal of the season – and fourth on the road. What was that about he could not score away?

Wigan were stirred into a quick response. Kilgallon's goalline block denied Sam Morsy and Gavin Massey's deflected drive rolled past the post in slow motion.

But for once, the marking at a set-piece was slack and allowed Chey Dunkley to convert Max Power's cross. City's resolve was under scrutiny once more as the teams swapped blows.

Wyke rattled the woodwork with a header, while Colin Doyle took one in the face to keep out a swerving blast from Michael Jacobs.

David Perkins, a name to make any City fan shudder with memories of painful encounters in his Rochdale days, sparked Wigan after the break.

But City refused to sit back and Taylor held his head in disbelief as a seemingly goal-bound effort was somehow kept out by centre-half Burn.

Taylor was running on empty as the afternoon reached its closing stages but McCall's substitution maintained the attacking impetus.

Instead of looking to shut the game down and protect a point, he threw on Tyrell Robinson to go at Wigan's right side. Nicky Law moved centrally to give Robinson the licence to bomb up that wing.

McCall's calculated gamble duly hit the jackpot as City scored in added time for only the second time this season.

Picking up the ball 25 yards out, Robinson had only one thing on his mind.

Running into the angle of the box, he unleashed a fierce drive towards the far corner. Maybe Jones should have been stronger with the right hand that got something on the ball; maybe, but who cares...

The shot scorched into the net and that end of the ground erupted.

There was no way back for Wigan, Kilgallon making sure of that by cutting out a Will Grigg raid.

One down, two to go – this most testing of weeks for City could not have begun any better.