Sheffield United cemented their position as second in the Championship with a win at Wigan Athletic, ruining Kolo Toure’s first home game in charge of the Latics.
The Blades are just three points behind leaders Burnley and now five ahead of Blackburn Rovers thanks to goals either side of the break from John Egan and Billy Sharp.
Nathan Broadhead reduced the deficit from an offside position for the hosts in the 65th minute, just a minute after being denied a credible penalty shout when United’s Ciaran Clark appeared to handle Thelo Aasgaard’s shot.
The sobering reality for Toure is that his Wigan side head into Christmas in 23rd place, two points from safety.
Despite early pressure from the hosts, it was Paul Heckingbottom’s Sheffield United who struck first.
Egan headed home a superb corner from Oliver Norwood in the eighth minute. It was abysmal defending from the hosts, who had been roused moments earlier when they had goalkeeper Jamie Jones to thank for a save from Iliman Ndiaye, with Sander Berge’s follow-up blocked.
At the other end, James McClean was unlucky to see his right-footed volley slip past Wes Foderingham’s post.
But the Blades continued to cause problems with their high pressure, with Wigan defenders – under new coach Toure – struggling for their composure and clearly uncomfortable with their opponents’ measured aggression.
United nearly doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark when the Latics lost possession, allowing Sharp’s backheel past Jack Whatmough. James McAtee hung on to the ball, only to be denied by another excellent save from Jones.
Sharp finally added United’s second in the 56th minute. Ndiaye’s pass wasn’t the best but the veteran striker hit his shot low beyond James’ left hand, but just inside his post, to score his second in as many games.
Still, the deficit was to fuel Wigan into a response as they enjoyed their most fruitful period of the game.
Watched by former boss Roberto Martinez, they were demanding a penalty in the 64th minute when Callum Long’s shot fell on Thelo Aasgaard – his effort was blocked by Clark’s arm. Referee Dean Whitestone dismissed the protests.
Within a minute, those claims were allayed when Wigan reduced the deficit. McClean fired a cross goal from the left, the ball landing in the feet of Nathan Broadhead, who found the net, despite calls for offside from the visitors.
The result leaves the winners and losers of this match just one spot away from being the best and worst teams in the league, respectively, as the holiday season approaches.