There cannot be many routes in Wigan more scenic than the one Tottenham took to victory. Having established a two-goal lead in a dominant first-half performance, what had looked a straightforward win was knocked off course by a Mohamed Diamé goal within five minutes of the restart. Wigan had Steve Gohouri sent off for a second bookable clash with Gareth Bale just after the hour, but still ended the game on the front foot.
At the half-time whistle, a Wigan fan turned to the press box and said, philosophically: "We're well beaten, we just have to accept it." But he returned from the bar with his faith renewed, and Roberto Martínez appeared to have done the same for his team. Wigan re-emerged with new-found urgency, Diamé twisting and turning his defender before shooting low past Brad Friedel's right hand to reduce the deficit. Wigan's performance had been bad enough to elicit boos within the opening 10 minutes, but they rewarded their fans with a final 10 that was boisterous and barnstorming, if not goalscoring. It was a sign of the turnaround in their confidence that when James McArthur spotted Friedel off his line in the 88th minute, he fancied he could lift it over him from distance.
"I couldn't be prouder of the second-half performance," said Martínez. "It would have been all too easy to feel sorry for ourselves. We won the second half 1-0, and we looked like we could get something out of it."
Spurs had looked more like they had a man over in the first 45 minutes than they did in the final half-hour, when no combination of Emmanuel Adebayor, Luka Modric or Rafael van der Vaart could elude that last defender. Had Younes Kaboul's 84th-minute free-kick flown under the bar, the scoreline would certainly have flattered Tottenham's own second-half performance.
Had they finished the first half three or four goals ahead, however, there could have been no complaint. Spurs could have scored in the opening minute, when Kyle Walker's fizzing, low ball was hesitantly cleared by the Wigan defence, and they took the lead in the third when a poor pass from Gary Caldwell to Maynor Figueroa pricked Adebayor's senses. The striker pinched the ball and accelerated into the box before squaring it for Van der Vaart, who lifted his shot neatly over Ali al-Habsi.
The calm with which Tottenham were playing the ball around infuriated the home supporters, who watched their own team turn repeatedly towards their own goal rather than try to get through Scott Parker and Sandro. The visitors' second actually came from a set piece in the 23rd minute, when Bale met Modric's outswinging corner at the near post and flicked it towards the far. He was given the chance to do exactly the same a few minutes later but headed over. Bale and Adebayor both drew saves from Habsi before the half was over.
"I said to them at half-time: 'The only way they're going to get back into the game is if you do something stupid,'" said the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp. "[Wigan's goal] gave them a lift, the crowd got behind them and they run their socks off. In all honesty our keeper's not had too much to do but it still got too close for comfort."