Wigan Athletic all but secured an immediate return to the Sky Bet Championship in style, with a commanding 4-1 victory over Southend United.
Chris McCann’s opener and a Will Grigg brace made it comfortable at the interval, before Michael Jacobs sealed the result with a cool finish in the second half.
The visitors grabbed a late consolation when Craig Morgan unluckily deflected Worrall’s cross into his own net, but the result had long since been assured by that point, and it did little to deter a jubilant home crowd at the DW Stadium.
Chants of ‘We are going up’ rang around the ground throughout the second half, and thanks to results elsewhere, it will now take a swing of Hollywood proportions to see Latics drop into the League One play-offs.
Latics’ victory means that Caldwell’s men are now 9 points clear of fourth placed Walsall, who still have three games to play and are the only side outside the top two who can still catch Latics.
However, the Saddlers were beaten 4-0 at Bradford today, meaning that they require nine points and a 22-goal swing from their final three games if they’re to deny Latics automatic promotion.
Gala’s nineties hit ‘Freed from desire’ blasted around the PA system in tribute to striker Grigg and his popular chant before the game, who was presented with his trophy for being the PFA Fans’ Sky Bet League One Player of the Month for March.
Latics were in a confident mood heading into the game, and Caldwell’s men almost had the perfect start by scoring in the first minute, when Michael Jacobs’ latched onto the rebound of Warnock’s powerful effort to head over the bar.
The defender broke down the left hand side and saw his low effort saved by Ted Smith, before Jacobs headed over the rebound from close range.
Yanic Wildschut was again causing trouble, as he has all season, down the left hand side, with two opportunities in the opening seven minutes leaving the visiting defence looking very nervous indeed.
Latics were in a vibrant mood, and got the breakthrough two minutes later through McCann, who produced a low finish after a brilliant team move.
The move started with Jacobs, who drove forward from midfield and released McCann on the edge of the area. The midfielder darted onto the ball and drove it low across the keeper and into the bottom right corner.
Latics were flowing, and could easily have doubled their advantage within five minutes of the first, looking dangerous with every single opportunity.
McCann almost had a second on 14 minutes, when he rattled the post from an almost identical position to his first goal, but Latics didn’t have to wait long for their second, which came three minutes later through Grigg.
Such is the admiration from the fans for the forward, chants of ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ had started even before the hitman had hit the net, but it took just 17 minutes for the striker to add to his goal tally, with a cool finish past Smith.
Wildschut hit an effort from the edge of the area, which clipped the right hand post and fell into path of Grigg, who had the simple task of tapping it in from close range to double his side’s advantage.
Latics were irresistible throughout the first half, with chance after chance to increase their lead, with Wildschut, Grigg, McCann and Jacobs all causing havoc going forward in a completely dominant display.
The lead was increased further on 36 minutes through Grigg, who produced a beautiful finish to clip the ball around Smith having been released into the area.
It could have been more before the interval, with Power’s clever corner kick allowing Jacobs to try his luck from the edge of the area, but it remained just the three in a sublime first half display from Latics going into the interval.
Latics dominance continued in the second half, with the visitors pinned in their own half for long spells of the contest.
The chances continued to flow, and it took just six minutes for Caldwell’s men to increase their advantage further through Michael Jacobs, who bagged his second goal in as many games since his return from injury.
Latics hit Southend on the break through Jacobs and it proved deadly, with the goal scorer releasing Wildschut down the left hand side. The winger produced a textbook run down the flank, before returning it to Jacobs with a low ball, who guided it into the top right hand corner of Smith’s net.
Such was the dominance on the pitch, it soon become a case of sealing Will Grigg’s hat-trick, and the striker came close on multiple occasions to doing so, even seeing a goal chalked off for offside.
The first came on 57 minutes, when the striker was fed by a brilliant ball from deep. He ran through and found himself one on one with Smith, but saw his curling effort go agonisingly wide of the right post.
Grigg was in again just four minutes later, and saw his effort chalked off after a brilliant team move involving himself, McCann and Warnock.
The forward released McCann down the left, who back-heeled it to Warnock in emphatic fashion. The wing-back saw his effort saved by Smith, and Will Grigg was there to tap it home, only for the linesman to rule it out for offside.
Grigg wasn’t finished there, and had one more golden opportunity on 74 minutes before being subbed off soon after, when he met substitute Conor McAleny’s low cross from the right, but couldn’t keep his first time effort on target.
Southend momentarily paused the one-way nature of the contest though, when they pulled a goal back in strange circumstances less than 60 seconds later in unfortunate circumstances for Craig Morgan, who deflected David Worrall’s cross into his own net from close range.
Happily, that was as good as it got for the 579 travelling Southend fans, and Gary Caldwell’s men capped off a fine performance by closing out the game with little or no drama – meaning that the dream of an instant return to the Championship has all but become a reality.