Wigan 16 Salford 31
Shaun Wane's depleted Wigan rallied late to emerge with some pride, if not the two points.
The Warriors were 28-0 down with half-an-hour to go, but prevented a landslide loss with three unanswered tries from homegrown youngsters Tom Davies, Ryan Sutton and Lewis Tierney.
Gareth O’Brien kicked a drop-goal and late penalty to kill any slim hopes Wigan had of avoiding a second successive defeat.
Over the course of the 80-minutes, Salford were certainly deserved victors - their first win at Wigan in 20 years.
Yet what the Warriors lacked in cohesion and experience, they at least showed a satisfying amount of tenacity.
What made their strong finish even more remarkable was that, following injuries to Sam Powell and Nick Gregson, they had only one halfback on the pitch - and teenager Josh Woods was making his debut in a youthful line-up.
Indeed, there were a dozen ‘starters’ missing, as well as a clutch of fringe players who would have stepped up. Remarkably Liam Marshall, who only debuted two months ago, was the second-most experienced three-quarter behind 22-year-old Joe Burgess.
Of the 17, there were 13 academy-products including Woods and hooker Josh Ganson, who made his first appearance in the 54-4 mauling at Castleford six days earlier.
Woods got the call to replace George Williams, one of four absentees from last weekend’s 54-4 mauling at Castleford, with Lewis Tierney returning to the side at full-back for Morgan Escare.
In-form Salford had injury worries of their own, with around seven senior players missing including ex-Warrior Lee Mossop. But they went into the match one point and two positions above Wigan in the table, and as the bookmakers’ favourites.
By half-time, the Red Devils had justified their favourites tag by establishing a deserved 16-0 lead.
Their bigger forwards persistently poked through the tackles, giving halfbacks Michael Dobson and Robert Lui the time and position to orchestrate energetic, polished attacks.
Wigan had a dig, were low in errors and improved as the opening half unravelled, but they rarely showed the attacking fluidity and strike to trouble the visitors. Only once did they go close to scoring, when Liam Farrell was unable to ground an angled short-kick by stand-in captain Sam Powell.
Kris Welham scored the game’s opening try, but the credit belonged to powerhouse backrower Ben Murdoch-Masila for a neat flick-pass in the build-up which put them into good position. Wigan stayed with them for a spell but Salford’s offloads, and ability to slip out of tackles, made them look the most likely to score next.
And that proved the case, with two tries - both converted by one-time Warrior Dobson - within six minutes before the half-hour mark. First, Niall Evalds slipped beyond Woods, who had until that point handled the kicks aimed towards him. And them Murdoch-Masila burst through a creaking defence for their third try.
Tierney settled into the game and provided some of their most promising early attacks, while the Powell-Farrell combination on the left-side improved, without troubling the scoreboard by half-time.
The directors hadn’t retaken their seats by the time Salford had extended their lead, Evalds collecting Dobson’s weighted kick to slide over. And from their next set, a penalty marched them down field and a crisp left-to-right shift ended with Greg Johnson flying in at the corner. With Dobson adding both conversions, it pushed Salford’s lead out to 28 points before the 50-minute mark - and many feared the worse.
Wigan’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact Powell didn’t return for the second-half, replaced at halfback by utility Gregson, who himself went off late for a concussion test.
But roared on by the home supported, they rallied. A trundling drive by Taulima Tautai put them into a solid position and, after the attack had twice misfired when they pulled the trigger, they finally scored their first points when Tierney sent the ball to the right wing and Davies showed great poise and strength to touch down.
Encouraged, they maintained their new-found intensity, and on the hour-mark Sutton thundered over from short range for a try which Woods converted, reeling in Salford’s lead to 18-points.
Wigan carved out several more chances but passes either went to ground, moves were snuffed out or players were stopped short. O’Brien settled any Salford nerves with a drop-goal and penalty in a scrappy finish.
Wigan take a break from Super League and head to Swinton in the Challenge Cup next Sunday.
Wigan: Tierney; Davies, Forsyth, Burgess, Marshall; Woods, Powell; Nuuasala, Ganson, Sutton, Isa, Farrell, Tomkins. Subs: Tautai, Gregson, Bretherton, Navarrete.
Salford: Evalds; Johnson, Welham, Jones, Bibby; Lui, Dobson; Tasi, Tomkins, Walne, Lannon, Murdoch-Masila, Krasniq. Subs: Kopczak, Brining, Murray, O’Brien.
Referee: Chris Campbell
Starman: Lewis Tierney