Wigan Athletic 0 Aston Villa 4
There may be a recession looming but Aston Villa fans are more than willing to organise a whip round to pay for another night on the tiles for their very own “Rocket Man” John Carew after he came off the bench to steer Villa to an impressive 4-0 victory at Wigan.
Whatever the big man’s misdemeanours in midweek, being spotted out at city lap dancing venue The Rocket Club on the eve of Villa’s Uefa Cup clash with Ajax, all was forgiven as far as the travelling Villa faithful were concerned by his second half appearance.
The Norwegian striker created a goal for team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor before scoring himself after Gareth Barry had opened Villa’s account at the JJB Stadium with a first half penalty.
Villa then cruised home with a late strike from substitute Steve Sidwell making his league debut in claret and blue and his wild celebrations suggested just how much it meant to him to put weeks of injury woe behind him.
Things might have been very different with Carew’s midweek misdemeanour threatening to upset manager Martin O’Neill’s finely balanced apple cart but in the end the sight of the six foot five inch striker stripping off his Villa shirt and throwing it to the fans suggested he has been forgiven.
The 3,000-plus Villa fans who had made the journey up the M6 had actually sung Carew’s name from the start when he appeared on the bench – no doubt part of his punishment for his Thursday morning shenanigans and coupled with a £100,000 fine.
There were also the customary chants and banter from the terraces about Carew’s late night exploits which were revealed on Friday after fans spotted him when he should have been tucked up in bed at the team hotel.
But then the fans were up for a good day out by all accounts and seem to relish playing Wigan with its manager Steve Bruce and its smattering of former players from Birmingham City including England striker Emile Heskey, Olivier Kapo, Wilson Palacios and Daniel de Ridder.
Their mere appearance on the team-sheet appeared to give the visiting Villa fans just the ammunition they needed to treat this as a sort of unofficial derby with absence of the real thing due to their current standings in different divisions.
Wigan, under Bruce, however are in impressive form. Robbed recently of the points in a thrilling 3-2 encounter with Liverpool they were eager to add the flesh to the bones of eight points from eight games which by no means does their form so far this season justice.
But if Villa boss Martin O’Neill had feared Wigan’s strike partnership of Heskey and Egyptian sensation Amr Zaki he need not have worried. Not only were Villa firing on all cylinders up front but at the back skipper Martin Laursen was once again being ably supported by Spaniard Carlos Cuellar with Luke Young and Nicky Shorey alongside.
The defence managed to nullify everything Wigan could throw at them while at the other end man of the match Gabreil Agbonlahor was heeding claims from his manager who recently suggested he had performed a masterclass at centre-forward.
It was the unceremonious upending of Agbonlahor on 21 minutes that gave Villa the lead. The England Under-21 striker was brought down by Titus Bramble in the penalty area. Gareth Barry duly obliged from the spot, sending Wigan keeper Chris kirkland the wrong way.
That goal settled Villa giving them the edge into half-time while at the other end Martin Laursen was keeping Heskey at bay whilst also denying Wilson Palacios.
Apart from an Olivier Kapo shot which forced a diving right-hand save from Brad Friedel on 31 minutes, Villa really looked little troubled with Stiliyan Petrov continuing to impress in midfield and Ashley Young stirring up the Wigan defence with some neat trickery.
But it was the appearance of Carew after Barry limped off with an ankle knock which brought the game to life.
The big man had been missed but immediately set about making amends when he latched on to a trademark Villa set piece. An Ashley Young corner swung into the box and there was Carew head it down for Agbonlahor to deflect it home,
Just minutes later Carew was himself on the scoresheet with a close range header set up by his strike partner Agbonlahor.
Headline writers would have been happy at that point to call it a day but there were more goals in this Villa side yet and it was perhaps fitting that the fairy tale ending actually belonged to Steve Sidwell who has had to endure weeks on the sideline first with a calf and then with a knee injury since scoring an own goal in the Intertoto Cup on his official debut.
Badge-kissing over the weekend has been frowned upon in the style of Rooney and Barton but here there was no such consternation as he scored a fine goal in the 89th minute before reeling away to pucker up to his Villa badge.
Scorers: Barry, (21 penalty), Agbonlahor (56), Carew (61), Sidwell (89).
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland, Boyce, Scharner, Bramble, Figueroa, de Ridder (Taylor, 81) , Cattermole (Brown, 81), Palacios, Kapo (Koumas,45) Zaki, Heskey. Substitutes: Pollitt, Kilbane, Cywka, Camara.
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel, L Young (Davies, 78) Cuellar, Laursen, Shorey, Milner, Reo-Coker, Petrov (Sidwell, )Barry (Carew, 53), Young, Agbonlahor. Substitutes: Guzan, Sidwell, Harewood, Gardner, Knight, Carew.
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire).
Bookings: Wigan – Palacios (foul); Villa – L Young (time-wasting), Reo-Coker (foul).