A YEAR of considerable on-field progress by Sheffield Wednesday ended on a fitting high as Stuart Gray’s side moved into the Championship’s top 10 on the back of another stirring away performance.
Atdhe Nuhiu netted the all-important goal 13 minutes from time to earn the Owls what, on the balance of play, was a thoroughly deserved victory.
On a night when chances were at a premium, the lion’s share were created by Wednesday as Wigan’s home troubles continued.
It is 10 games and four months since the Latics last won in the league at the DW Stadium, and rarely last night did that record look like ending.
For the Owls, a fifth away win of the season means 2014 has yielded 68 points – the seventh highest tally in the Championship – together with a transformation in fortunes.
No longer are Wednesday, who were third bottom 12 months ago, a seemingly permanent feature in the second tier’s relegation dogfight and the credit for that has to go to Gray.
With the minimum of fuss and only a modicum of cash, the head coach has brought about a quiet revolution that means the Owls can look up the table rather than over their shoulders in the new year.
On a night when the temperatures plunged as kick-off approached, it was in the interests of both teams to start at a decent pace.
Both did just that, ensuring that neither side felt the cold once the game was under way, even those hardy souls such as Lewis McGugan and Chris Maguire who opted to wear short sleeves.
Unfortunately for the 14,571 crowd, instances of true quality amid the admirable endeavour and effort on show proved to be in short supply, at least during the first half when Keiren Westwood did not have a save to make and the few threatening moments came from the Owls.
The first of those sporadic attacking forays came on 20 minutes as Jacques Maghoma raced clear down the right before whipping in an inviting cross for Nuhiu.
As the Wednesday striker stuck out a leg in an attempt to apply the final touch, James Perch pulled off a wonderful goal-saving tackle inside the six-yard bo.
Seven minutes later, a sublime corner by Maguire flashed across the face of goal with no less than three Wednesday players stretching in vain to apply a finishing touch.
McGugan also had a couple of long-range efforts before the interval, the first from 20 yards being deflected just wide and the second seeing Scott Carson collect at the second attempt.
In terms of genuine first-half opportunities, that was about it with Wigan’s most threatening move seeing Adam Forshaw’s run and shot blocked by Tom Lees and then McGugan belted the ball to safety just ahead of James McClean.
Matters did improve after the break, though again it was Wednesday who carried the most threat as two incisive pieces of play by Maguire in the early stages were only let down by poor play from a team-mate.
In the first instance, a stunning cross-field pass to the right flank allowed Liam Palmer to scamper clear but he sliced his cross into the stand.
Then, after Maguire had evaded a couple of tackles, his neat pass would have put Nuhiu away but for the ball striking the heel of the striker just as the Latics’ defence seemed to be struggling.
On the hour, McClean brought the first save of the night from Westwood after racing from deep inside his own half, but any hopes the locals had of this being the start of their team cranking up the pressure disappeared five minutes later.
This was how long it took for substitute Callum McManaman to launch a reckless challenge on the shin of Claude Dielna and earn himself a straight red card.
Wigan being reduced to 10 meant Wednesday had 25 minutes to take advantage. They took just 12, neat play on the left between Maghoma and Dielna ending with Nuhiu meeting a looping left-wing cross with a bullet header from close range.
Considering moments earlier Nuhiu had been prevented from breaking the deadlock by a reflex save by Carson, no one could claim the striker did not deserve his sixth goal of the season.
Maguire spurned an excellent opportunity to add a second by shooting high and wide after Carson had slid out of his goal and presented the Wednesday man with the ball wide on the right.
This almost became a costly miss as Ivan Ramis headed against a post late on and McClean fired the rebound over the top to the relief of the 2,778 away fans.
Wigan Athletic: Carson; Perch, Ramis, Kiernan (Maloney 82); Tavernier, Watson (Espinoza 65), McCann, Forshaw, Taylor; Fortune (McManaman 59), Mclean. Unused substitutes: Al Habsi, Riera, Boyce, Kvist.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Mattock (Dielna 58); Maghoma, Semedo, McGugan (Lee 81), Maguire (May 85), Helan; Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Kirkland, Lavery, McCabe, Zayatte.
Referee: D Whitestone (Northamptonshire).