WIGAN // After the surreal came the distinctly abnormal. Home wins are supposed to be routine, regulation affairs but, for Wigan Athletic, collecting three points on their own patch was almost as strange as last week's win at Anfield.
Seven months had elapsed since their last triumph on their own turf, 14 games and 217 days since Queens Park Rangers were overcome. It was a run that suggested that buying a season ticket at the DW Stadium was an act of masochism.
Finally, however, the long-suffering supporters were rewarded with the sight of their side celebrating on the pitch. Antolin Alcaraz and Victor Moses scored the goals as they saw off Stoke City and, after defeating Liverpool, recorded back-to-back league wins for only the second time in Roberto Martinez's three-year reign.
The worry for Wigan is that they remain in the relegation zone. While they are finding form, so are others: with Bolton Wanderers and QPR also winning, they are still 19th, while their next three opponents are Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
The broader picture is bleak, but Martinez has had a sunny demeanour in the toughest of times. Optimism is his default setting and the Spaniard was smiling afterwards.
"It was a complete performance," he said. "It magnifies how important the win at Anfield was. It was a historic day at Anfield but it would have meant nothing without this. I do feel this season is the best we have had in the last three. The team has great football concepts and we are starting to get the results now. The players deserve that."
There were plenty of reasons for positivity. Wigan excelled, passing the ball with confidence and skill. Their flaw is familiar, the story of a season where chances have been missed. The surprise, perhaps, was not that a series were spurned, but that two were taken.
Indeed, each was finished with aplomb. When Jean Beausejour delivered a cross from the left wing, Alcaraz met it with a bullet header, giving Asmir Begovic no chance and scoring for the first time since September 2010. Then Moses, who had earned Wigan's penalty at Anfield, clinched victory in injury time. As Andy Wilkinson dawdled in possession, the winger robbed him and accelerated away, evading the attentions of Ryan Shawcross and Begovic to slot the ball into the unguarded net.
The Bosnian had impressed, especially when parrying Shaun Maloney's volley, but he had been helped by Wigan's lack of conviction in front of goal.
Franco di Santo was the first culprit, breaking clear after the error-prone Wilkinson's clearance was charged down. But his shot was weak and Begovic blocked.
Then Beausejour, who has made a major impact on the left flank since his January arrival from Birmingham, marred an otherwise admirable performance with two startling misses. The Chilean was presented with a tap-in by Moses, but contrived to skew his shot sideways to Shawcross. Then, picked out by Ben Watson from a free kick, he scuffed the tamest of efforts straight at Begovic.
"We missed some really good opportunities," said Martinez, whose side were also denied a penalty when the ball struck Dean Whitehead's hand.
In contrast, Stoke were subdued. After taking points off Tottenham and Manchester City, they provided rather less resistance to Wigan. It was their 49th game of a marathon season but the manager Tony Pulis refused to use that as an excuse.
"I don't think it has got anything to do with it," he said. "It was a poor day at the office. They were better than us today. We have got to hold our hands up, take it on the chin and move on."
Their season is all but over, Wigan's just gaining much-needed momentum.
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