A real goal of the season contender from Lee Evans helped Wigan Athletic into the second round of the FA Cup with a hard-fought but ultimately well-deserved 2-1 victory over Crawley Town.
The League Two outfit had taken the lead after only 19 minutes, when Jordan Roberts shocked the DW Stadium with a magnificent volley that Latics goalkeeper Matija Sarkic couldn’t get near.
Latics were level within 10 minutes, when Ivan Toney produced an acrobatic volley of his own to convert Evans’ left-wing cross.
Nick Powell wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to put Latics in front before half-time when he failed to make the most of a one-on-one chance.
But Latics did make their divisional superiority tell with 19 minutes to go, with a goal of world-class quality.
Evans engineered the 35-yard shooting opportunity himself with a clever switch from his right foot to his left.
And even with his ‘wrong’ foot, the Welshman leathered the ball into the roof of the net, with Town goalkeeper Glenn Morris barely moving.
While denying plucky Crawley a money-spinning replay, the goal saved Latics the hassle of a long-haul midweek trek on Tuesday week, which would have been an extra boost for boss Paul Cook.
With only a handful of Crawley fans in the North Stand and the South Stand completely closed, there was an eerie feel to the opening stages of the game.
As Latics struggled to get going into any kind of rhythm, the visitors were given more and more encouragement there may be something in it for them.
And those thoughts were given a real shot in the arm with only 19 minutes gone, when they took the lead with a goal right out of the top drawer.
There looked little danger to Wigan when the ball was played in to Roberts, 15 yards from goal.
But the Town man controlled beautifully on his chest, and held off a would-be defender before hooking the ball over his shoulder into the far corner of the net.
Goalkeeper Sarkic - in for Jamie Jones, and making only his second start of the season - had no chance, and the goal was so good it brought applause from the home ends of the ground.
The Crawley fans behind the opposite goal sensed a real shock may be on the cards, but it was a lead their side only held for 10 minutes.
Great work down the Latics left from Evans created the opening, with a Town defender unable to cut out the cross completely.
Toney had to adjust his body position to accept the deflection, but he did so with the minimum of fuss before volleying home from eight yards.
The goal helped to settle Latics down, and they really should have nosed in front eight minutes before half-time.
Powell found himself clean through on Morris’ goal, but his clipped finish, while beating the goalkeeper, drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.
The ex-Manchester United man almost made amends within two minutes of the restart, when his inviting free-kick from the left was guided home by an unmarked Dan Burn.
However, before the celebrations could begin, the referee whistled for offside against the big centre-back.
Crawley dodged another bullet on 53 minutes when a Gary Roberts cross was superbly dummied by Gavin Massey into the path of Toney, who cut inside the last two men with a beautiful body swerve.
His left-foot shot looked destined to end in the top corner, only to rebound against the bar and away to safety.
Crawley suffered a blow on the hour mark when Roberts, their goalscorer, limped off to be replaced by Thomas Verheydt.
Although Wigan l,ooked the more likely winners at this point, Crawley were by no means giving up the ghost, and almost edged ahead against the run of play at the three-quarter mark.
A left-wing cross found its way to Enzio Boldewijn, eight yards from goal, but his header was so weak it barely made its way into the arms of Sarkic.
With Wigan not fancying a replay nearly as much as Crawley, it was no surprise to see them raise their efforts hit the front with 19 minutes to go - with a goal fit for the Champions League final rather than the first round of the FA Cup.
Evans picked it up 35 yards from goal, centre-field, and switched it to his left foot.
The Crawley goalkeeper would have had a good look at it, but barely had time to move as the Welshman’s left-foot strike flew past him at the speed of sound, almost ripping the net from its hinges.
That was Evans’ last involvement, with Ryan Colclough taking over, joining Will Grigg and David Perkins, who’d replaced Toney and Massey.
But Latics were able to negotiate the closing stages without alarm, and take their place in the hat for the second-round draw.