DAN Sarginson spared Wigan’s blushes as they survived a huge scare from Salford to battle to a gutsy victory.
The Warriors had failed to score by half-time and only took the lead in the 71st minute, when Sarginson struck for a decisive, and perhaps controversial, try.
Matty Smith’s conversion - and subsequent drop-goal - eased their nerves in the final few minutes, as Shaun Wane’s men made it a happy homecoming to the DW after six weeks on the road.
And the nervy, unconvincing victory saw them cut the lead on pace-setters St Helens to a slender one point, although the complexion of the top-three may change when Leeds face in-form Hull FC on Sunday.
Wigan were booed off the pitch at half-time as they trailed 6-0. They just couldn’t find their groove and it seemed the harder they tried, the worse they got. Salford deserve credit for an energetic defensive effort, but they were helped all the way by a misfiring, error-littered display by the hosts.
Wane’s side improved in the second-half, and in the final 20 minutes they showed passages of their best. Matty Bowen redeemed his errors from the previous week with a lively display, though no players emerged from this win with their reputations enhanced.
Still, not all wins can be convincing or comfortable, and the two points ensured they made it a year without a home Super League defeat.
As expected, fit-again Dom Manfredi replaced misfiring Josh Charnley on the right wing.
The Red Devils won the corresponding fixture on Easter Monday but had won only one since - at lowly Wakefield last Sunday.
Rangi Chase started at full-back for Iestyn Harris’ men, who had Wigan’s on-loan hooker Logan Tomkins in the starting line-up alongside Adrian Morley - in, possibly, his last ever game at this venue.
The game was themed Armed Forces Day and the club did a thorough job to honour the country’s heroes. An emotional rendition of The Last Post was followed by the national anthem, setting the tone for a fierce contest.
But what followed was, well, rather tepid.
Neither side made significant inroads, though Salford’s superior kicking game - and greater enthusiasm - served them well. Their rushing defence forced an error from John Bateman and from that position, Michael Dobson’s sweet pass found Cory Patterson on a charge. Josh Griffin’s first goal put the visitors 6-0 ahead after 10 minutes.
There were no further scores until the break. If Wane had instructed his players to cut the errors out at half-time, he must have been seething as the erratic Taulima Tautai knocked on in the opening set and - from that hand-over - George Griffin sliced between Liam Farrell and Bowen for their second try.
The centre tagged on the extras to make it 12-0.
Wigan improved enough to spare themselves the indignity of being nilled. Joe Burgess leapt to collect Smith’s angled kick, stepped through the defence and plunged the ball down. Smith tagged on the simple conversion to cut the gap to six points again.
And for a spell, Wigan showed greater urgency. They lost Ben Flower to a head-knock, but attacked with better shape and greater pace, even if their last-play options continued to be poor.
As the game entered the final quarter, Wigan drew level - albeit in bizarre circumstances - when Burgess’ improvised angled kick into the ingoal was touched down by Farrell before it bobbled over the deadball line. Smith again hit the goal to lock the scoreline at 12-12.
The England No.7’s 40m penalty attempt minutes later sailed wide. But still, Wigan pressed and prodded, and with Bowen eating metres down field they eventually went ahead for the first time when Sarginson touched down McIlorum’s short kick - referee Joe Cobb awarded the try after consulting with the other officials.
Smith added the extras, and then - with five minutes to go - added a dropgoal to wedge a seven-point gap between the sides.
Wigan: Bowen; Manfredi, J Tomkins, Sarginson, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Crosby, McIlorum, Flower, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Hampshire, Mossop, Tautai, Patrick.
Salford: Chase; Caton-Brown, J Griffin, Sa’u, Johnson; Fages, Dobson; Morley, L Tomkins, Taylor, Peterson, Hauraki, Hansen. Subs: Tasi, Evalds, G Griffin, Walne.
Referee: Joe Cobb