Walsall 0 Wigan Athletic 3

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

Latics closed the gap on the automatic promotion places as they secured a comfortable win at Walsall, which came courtesy of a superb first-half display.

It looked as if Latics would be in for a tough evening, as Walsall matched them in a high-octane opening half-hour.

But a superb 10-minute salvo quickly ended the tie as a contest as Latics went into the interval three goals to the good after strikes from Michael Jacobs, Jay Fulton and Chey Dunkley.

Dean Keates' Walsall tried to muster a response in their manager's first game in charge with a spirited second-half showing, but Latics saw out the game to put them within two points of league leaders Blackburn - with two games in hand.

Latics came into this game knowing that it was a perfect opportunity to make up ground on the top two, but Walsall were in need of points themselves, which ensured that it was a physical opening half-an-hour.

The visitors were getting plenty of early joy from set-pieces and twice went close from corners in the opening 15 minutes with both Chey Dunkley and Nick Powell narrowly heading wide of Liam Roberts' goal.

Latics were being made to battle by Walsall, though, who grew into the game and started to look dangerous themselves midway through the first half, Erhun Oztumer seeing his long-range effort deflected into the hands of Christian Walton.

The hosts continued to grow in confidence, and just as they were starting to look as if they would break the deadlock Latics stuck with a clinical nature that all but ended the contest inside 10 barnstorming minutes.

The first came through Michael Jacobs, who arrived at the far post to tuck home Nick Powell's low cross from close range and score yet another vital goal for his side on the half-hour mark.

It was soon two for Latics, who doubled their advantage just five minutes later with an emphatic strike from Swansea loanee Jay Fulton, who scored his first goal for the club in spectacular fashion - lashing home a low drive from 20-yards into the bottom left corner.

Cook's men were showing just why they are in contention for the title, and added a third again just five minutes later through Chey Dunkley who was able to tap home from close range after Roberts had dropped Max Power's in-swinging corner from the right-hand side - sending Latics into the break with a commanding lead.

Walsall looked shell-shocked as they walked into the tunnel at the break, but the team-talk from new manager Keates gave them a renewed vigour, and they started the second half brightly with Kieron Morris twice testing Walton with efforts from the edge of the area inside the first five minutes.

The game had a similar feel to the first 30 minutes, and Latics responded with a chance of their own three minutes later, when Jacobs was released into the area but he could only guide his effort wide.

Walsall continued to show fighting spirit, and Walton was forced into a big save just after the hour mark; cutting the ball away from Amadou Bakayoko after the forward was released into the area by Oztumer's teasing through ball.

The 10-minute goal-rush was telling, though, and in truth Latics were cruising in the second half. Will Grigg, Gary Roberts and Devante Cole were all introduced in the closing stages as Paul Cook's side closed out the result, and moved one step closer to the automatic promotion places.