Wigan Warriors 6 Widnes Vikings 8
If Wigan were supposed to scream a warning shot, what followed was an inaudible whisper.
They let a golden chance to move level at the top of the table slip through their fingers after frequently choking their lines.
Shaun Wane’s men - who beat St Helens 25-0 in their last outing - had enough possession and penalty decisions to win several matches.
But they failed to break down Widnes’ desperate defence other than for a solitary Liam Farrell try in the 50th minute.
They had a chance to lock the scores late on, but decided against kicking an easy penalty - and their misfiring attack couldn’t conjure a match-winning try.
This was the second time this year the Vikings have left the DW Stadium victorious and, given the scenario at the top of the ladder, this certainly hurt.
Challenge Cup finalists Hull FC and Warrington - the sides above Wigan in the ladder - have rested players for their games this weekend. And Wane’s men had a golden chance to dial up the pressure at the top, ahead of fixtures against their rivals for the league leaders’ shield.
But their attack sorely lacked adventure, fluidity and unpredictability.
Yes, they were disrupted by the loss of Matty Smith to illness - which promoted Jake Shorrocks into the No.7 role - but they still had enough frontline personnel on the pitch to score more points, especially as they had 20 penalties in their favour.
Widnes had five ex-Warriors in their ranks as well as Connor Farrell, who is on a season-long loan from Wigan. And his presence in the side put him on collision course with older brother Liam in their first ever duel.
Wane had warned about the ‘Wigan factor’ in the build-up, stressing those with connections with the club would be desperate to get the win - even if they had no hope of reaching the play-offs positions.
His prediction proved prophetic; Widnes were aggressive and energetic from the start, snuffing out what few chances the home side created.
They also showed some nice touches with the ball, and when Greg Burke - who left Wigan in July - released full-back Rhys Hanbury, it set up the position for Widnes’ opening try. Kevin Brown’s shallow, measured kick was scooped up by Corey Thompson, who stepped through the covering defence.
There were spells of good defences from both sides, but the Warriors lost George Williams to a concussion assessment.
In the resulting reshuffle, Sam Tomkins moved back to his old position at stand-off, Dan Sarginson switched to full-back and Oliver Gildart entered the frame.
Widnes took advantage of the disruption, charging down field and extending their lead through Thompson’s second try - even if there was a question-mark about whether Joe Mellor’s pass was forward. Once again, Lloyd white was off-target with his conversion attempt, making it 8-0 - not an unassailable or worrying scoreline.
But still, Wigan appeared rattled, and what scraps of possession they had, their attacks were easily repelled by the determined and well-marshalled Widnes defence.
The sight of Williams returning to the pitch for the second-half provided some encouragement. And while there were still moments of frustration - Joe Bretherton’s spill among them - there were brief signs of improvement.
The pace and shape improved, and aided by back-to-back penalties, the weight of possession told as Farrell charged over.
Jake Shorrocks, who struggled to impose himself with the ball, at least maintained his 100 per cent goal-kicking ratio (he hit five from five against Wakefield) with the conversion to cut Widnes’ lead to a slender two points.
And that score served to dial up the volume inside the DW.
Referee Phil Bentham lost patience with Widnes’ indiscipline and, after a team warning, sinbinned Jack Buchanan for interference at the play-the-ball.
Down to 12 men, Widnes continued to gift Wigan penalties - Kevin Brown was punished for a high tackle on Tomkins. But the home side struggled to make the most of their weight of possession.
A second Widnes player, Connor Farrell, was sinbinned - reducing the visitors to 11 men for a spell - but still they couldn’t trouble the visitors. Their best chance fell to Ryan Sutton, who appeared destined to score only to lose the ball under pressure - a scenario which had echoes of Ben Currie’s spill at Wembley.
And so it went.
Bentham continued to warn Widnes, Wigan continued to win penalties, move down field... and then, nothing. No tries, not even any real try-scoring chance.
John Bateman’s half-break with four minutes to go offered them hope, and then when the lively Lewis Tierney broke and Gildart was pinned down, Wigan won a penalty close to the sticks.
A goal would have locked the scores, but they decided to run the play... only for Anthony Gelling’s basketball pass to Josh Charnley to sail into touch.