Head to Head
The Latics' history is comparatively short having only been formed in 1932, and their league history even shorter having gained election to the Football League in 1978 at the expense of Southport. 40 league meetings between the sides have yielded 13 Reading wins compared to 18 Wigan victories, however the raw stats belie a bit more of a story.
Prior to their respective cross-town relocations, both sides held pretty much full sway over the other on their own patch with just two away victories at Park's Elm and Springfield in 19 matches. Since the moves to the JJB and Madejski, away victories have been far easier to come by as seven victories have occurred although the Lancastrian club have far more than their fair share (five) if you're a Reading fan. This obviously means that the two victories in February 2002 and November 2003 equates to the full quota of Royals victories in Wigan, a record that we all undoubtedly would like to see improved.
6 December 2003, Wigan Athletic promoted the previous summer to Division 1 for the first time, and unbeaten at home so far in the league. Both sides were on a play-off charge, Reading just one point behind the Latics going into the game, which also came after a valiant showing against Chelsea in the League Cup.
Both sides possessed excellent second tier striking prowess, Wigan starting with both Nathan "Duke" Ellington, while Reading started with Nicky Forster leading the line in a 4-4-1-1 formation, and it was Forster who stole the show with a performance that was worth the £16 entrance fee alone.
Reading had by far the better of the game, although as would be expected of a side that possessed such a strong home record Wigan were not without their chances although it must be said they were mainly from distance as the Royal's rearguard of John Mackie and Ivar Ingimarsson stood firm. Forster it was the commenced with a statement of intent inside two minutes when given a through ball from Andy Hughes to run onto, and outpacing the defence with plenty of space to run into, Forster shot with the angle quickly narrowing under Jon Filan and against the post. And from that moment the tone was set as Wigan simply didn't learn their lesson, Forster time and again managing to control, turn and run at a perilously high defence.
20 minutes in, and Forster was at it again, this time receiving high upfield on the left flank, turning and running towards goal. Filan smothered well, perhaps Forster had better options in the middle and the danger was cleared. The match descended into a bit of a traditional English match up with lots of midfield battling that proved too much for the inexperienced and, regrettably, out-of-his-depth Bas Savage who was substituted by Steve Coppell on 37 minutes having been booked for persistent foul play after a series of unfortunate fouls. Scott Murray replaced the big Londoner and set about bringing more balance to the side, and just before half time the Royals had a third excellent opportunity to open the scoring when a quick break again led to an Andy Hughes through ball to Forster who shot straight at Filan from a far more favourable angle than the previous two opportunities. The only opportunity of note for Wigan was a through ball to Nathan Ellington in the area who fluffed his shot into Hahnemann's arms low down from 12 yards. Goalless at half time and the scoreline suited Reading much more than it did the hosts.
The second half followed very much the same pattern, Reading sitting back and soaking up pressure and hitting Wigan on the break. For the opening 10 minutes though, Wigan looked to turn the screw and Reading failed to impress themselves on the game, struggling to get a foot on the ball and escape their own half. Coppell identified this and pulled off the masterstroke substitution, removing the engine of Andy Hughes for the ball playing calmness of James Harper, although Harper's first touch was far from assured when attempting to clear a corner, a slice straight across goal, thankfully for Reading it fell to Nicky Shorey whose clearance upfield was assured, and thankfully straight to Forster, and the result was devastating. Under pressure on the halfway line, Forster controlled instantly, turned and ran beyond the Wigan defence once again, creating the narrow angle and once again firing his shot low under Filan. This time he made no mistake, and Reading deservedly took the lead. From then on, rearguard action, but no chances for Wigan as Reading looked to break continually, Forster looking dangerous every time, scaring the living daylights out of Jason de Vos and Ian Breckin. And with time running out Reading finally got the rewards their performance deserved, Harper this time pinging a crossfield ball to Forster in space in the left flank. Forster cut inside the full back and fired inside Jon Filan for 2-0.
Sadly for Reading, their form deserted them for the next few weeks as the infamous run of 3-0 defeats commenced the very next week at the Britannia Stadium, and they finished 9th come season's end as the inconsistency of form kept coming back to bite them. Wigan also finished just outside the playoffs, a last minute Brian Deane equaliser for West Ham denying the Latics the two extra points needed to usurp Crystal Palace. Palace took full advantage and were promoted in Cardiff.
They Played For Both Teams
The very name Jason Roberts conjures up memories of that remarkable run of wins in 2012 that saw Reading turn from midtable also rans to league winners, but it was with Wigan that the big London-born Grenadan really made his mark in the upper echelons of English football.
Commencing his playing days in Hayes in 1996, he was subject to a £250k move to Mark McGhee's Wolves in 1997 where he stayed for a year but failed to make an appearance, although he did enjoy two loan spells in the south west, firstly six months at Torquay United where he scored six times in 15 appearances, and latterly at Ashton Gate for a month which conjured up a solitary goal in three appearances.
Roberts' form out on loan saw Bristol Rovers and Ian Holloway decide to take a punt, allowing Wolves to recoup the £250k they spent on him a year previously, a move which kickstarted the career. Over two seasons Roberts made 93 appearances in all competitions scoring 48 goals as Rovers narrowly missed out on the Division 2 playoffs in 2000 (having looked for all the world they were to be automatically at the beginning of April). Sadly for Rovers, the failure to win promotion proved the catalyst for a transfer request and Roberts found himself the subject of a £2 million bid from West Bromwich Albion which proved enough to prize him away and back to the Black Country.
Form and appearances at The Hawthorns were harder to come by though, and in his four years he was in and out of the side, although he did break the century of appearances for the Baggies and scored 27 goals, and was a key member of the squad that lost out in the playoffs in 2000/01, and then gained promotion to the Premier League in 2002. Just three goals were scored though in 2002/03 as Albion were relegated at the first attempt, and in 2003/04 a loan spell with Portsmouth yielded four goals from 12 appearances between September and January as Pompey consolidated their Premier League status, but in mid-January Roberts was subject to a £1.4 million pound bid from big-spending Wigan who were looking to add quality to their promotion push. Eight goals in 14 appearances proved insufficient for Wigan to break the playoffs, although two red cards did little to aid the cause.
2004/05 was different though, Roberts and Ellington proving to be too good for all but Sunderland, as his 21 goals in 46 games more than aided Wigan chairman Dave Whelan in obtaining his goal of Premier League football in the stadium he built. Wigan more than maintained their top division status the following season and, aided by the goals and unselfish forward play of Roberts, reached the League Cup final against Manchester United. The final was one-sided, but the achievement was one to savour (and only seven years later bettered by their victory in the FA Cup final - jealous factor 20!) However, having not agreed a new deal with the club, the Latics chose to cash in on their asset as Blackburn then saw fit to offer £3 million in summer 2006, and Roberts made the move 25 miles north and east. In total Roberts made 103 appearances for Wigan scoring 43 goals, leaving a bit of a legend.
The Grenadan spent five and a half years in Blackburn, playing regularly in a very capable side under the likes of Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce, however the arrival of the Venky Group. Allardyce's sacking and replacement with Steve Kean made Roberts re-evaluate his position and, after 156 games and 28 goals, he readily made the move south and to the Championship with Reading for an undisclosed fee.
At Reading came his last hurrah as the signing by Brian McDermott was the missing piece of the jigsaw. Due to injury he was not ever present, but six goals and five assists in 17 appearances saw the Royals win 15 of their last 19 games from the point of his signing, rising from 8th with 42 points to 1st with 89 points and finishing the season as Champions. Sadly though, the influence was not to last. A lack of investment, a manager unable to change the downward spiral that quickly enveloped the club, and injury restricted Roberts to just 12 appearances, and the persistent hip injury that had curtailed his season to that point gave up. Roberts last appearance came in the disappointing 1-0 defeat at St Mary's, and he announced his retirement a year later. In total, Roberts made 515 appearances and scored 169 goals.
Honours outside of football have been forthcoming, most notably his MBE for his charity work in the UK and Grenada via the Jason Roberts Foundation, and since retiring he has ramped up his media career and is now employed by the BBC as a co-commentator for 5-Live.
2006/07, and a bit of a quandary for any Reading fan as the relegation battle between Sheffield United and West Ham United reached fever pitch, with the added spice of the Tevez/Mascherano affair over third party ownership. No Reading fan really likes Neil Warnock, although you may find the occasional supporter who has a liking for the Hammers (definitely not me). As it was, personally I always feel the side that has not played by the rules should suffer the most, and in this case West Ham should have been relegated in my opinion for playing players in direct contravention of Premier League rules. Sheffield United on the other hand, could have made the matter routine with a victory over Wigan who were also embroiled in the relegation dogfight, in essence it was winner takes all, and Wigan did that with a David Unsworth penalty just before half time. The result meant West Ham stayed up thanks to their unexpected 1-0 win at Old Trafford courtesy of Carlos Tevez's goal, and the mess was created for the Premier League to clear up. They bottled it, Sheffield United went down, West Ham were fined just £5 million although they were later made to pay Sheffield United significant compensation. In the end the cheats prospered, but it would have all been so much better had Wigan done the decent thing and lost!!
Fact, Interesting or Otherwise
As mentioned earlier, Wigan didn't join the Football League until 1978 having been elected after a second ballot by 29 votes to 20. However, recent trips to Old Trafford, Highbury, Anfield and the like could have been totally different had the club's wishes been realised in 1972. In the election process, promotion from non-league was rare, just six clubs managed to gain the required number of votes for promotion between 1951 and 1978. Having applied for election to the Football League on 28 separate occasions to that point (every year from 1953) Wigan launched an audacious attempt to secure a higher standard of league football north of the border. The catalyst was their 1971 experience. They won the Northern Premier League at a canter, and reached the FA Cup 3rd round where they lost 1-0 to Manchester City at Maine Road. Attendances were high at Springfield Park, and the club it was felt was on the up and ready for league football.
However, when it came to the votes, Wigan gained fewer than the season before, in part down to chairman Ken "The Pen" Cowap who presented every voting chairman with a £2 Parker pen. This was felt to be a bribe, and the result reflected the ill-feeling towards the gesture. As a result, the club decided to apply to join the Scottish League, but the welcome was frosty. A simple issue beset the plan - Wigan is over 100 miles from the Scottish border, meaning an away trip to Brechin for example would entail a 600 mile round trip, while also against them was the fact just one club had been elected to the Scottish League between 1931 and 1974. Inevitably the application was rejected, and Wigan commenced their six year wait for English League football.