Decisive Milner strike sees Villans boost top-four credentials
James Milner struck to give Aston Villa a crucial three points in the race for Champions League qualification last night as Martin O'Neill finally ended his March hoodoo.
The former Celtic boss had previously failed to win a Premier League game in the month of March since joining the Villans back in 2006.
Milner fired through a crowded penalty area on 63 minutes to give his side a lead they would not relinquish, after Gary Caldwell had cancelled out James McCarthy's 25th-minute own goal, with a glancing header just two minutes later.
Top scorer Gabriel Agbonlahor returned for the visitors as they looked to close in on their Champions League rivals.
Agbonlahor, troubled by a virus last week and then left on the bench for Saturday's draw with Stoke, replaced Emile Heskey at the DW Stadium in the only change to Martin O'Neill's line-up.
Wigan were hoping to boost their survival hopes by winning at home for only the second time since November.
Villa were slow to get into their stride but finally threatened after 11 minutes as Agbonlahor clipped the ball home from a John Carew flick-on, but the offside flag was raised. The visitors were denied again two minutes later as Ashley Young turned in an Agbonlahor cross, offside again the reason.
Villa took the lead in fortuitous circumstances after 25 minutes after Carew headed down a Downing cross.
McCarthy was under no pressure as the ball fell his way but he mis-timed his clearance horribly and sliced the ball beyond Kirkland.
Wigan levelled within two minutes however as Charles N'Zogbia's free-kick was met by a glancing header from Caldwell that took it beyond Friedel.
The second half began at a lung-bursting pace with Wigan's Marcelo Moreno curling a shot just wide. Villa reclaimed the lead just after the hour as Kirkland flapped at a cross and the ball was only half-cleared as far as Milner on the edge of the box. The England World Cup hopeful fired the ball back at goal and it somehow found its way through a crowded penalty area to hit the net.
Wigan, having introduced the pace of Victor Moses, tried to respond again but the former Crystal Palace star was crowded out after a strong run.
The hosts tried desperately to penetrate a Villa defence well marshalled by Richard Dunne, but the visitors held on comfortably to stay right in the hunt for a top-four finish.