Derby County secured only their second ever away victory over Wigan Athletic in a pulsating 90 minutes at the DW Stadium, as goals from Craig Bryson, Simon Dawkins and Chris Martin saw the Rams run riot in the first-half.
The strains of the Europa League seemed to have taken their toll on the Latics in the opening 45 minutes; even the nouveau riche Premier League sides struggle to cope with the rigors of Europe and the plethora of extra fixtures, and Wigan looked fatigued and prone to mistakes in the first-half, following their 2-1 defeat to Belgian side SV Zulte Waregem on Thursday evening.
However, the Rams were in no position to offer any compassion, as they steamrollered into a three-goal first-half lead, courtesy of Bryson’s free-kick, Dawkins’ cool finish and Martin’s 29th minute penalty.
In the second period, Latics boss Owen Coyle introduced Grant Holt and Roger Espinoza in a bid to try and revive a drained Wigan, and the pair certainly played their part in changing the complexion of the game, in the Latics’ favour.
With five minutes gone in the second-half, Nick Powell planted a firm header beyond the reach of goalkeeper Lee Grant, as a reinvigorated Wigan pressed high and used Holt’s physicality to start giving the Rams something to think about in their own penalty area.
But Steve McClaren’s side weathered the storm and recorded their first win on Wigan territory since Boxing Day 2004, when an 82nd minute winner from Tommy Smith helped Derby to a 2-1 victory in the Championship.
Derby went into the game knowing that a victory would give the side 19 away points, taking them past the 18 they totalled in the Championship last season.
The fine form away from home has seen the Rams collect maximum points against Brighton, Yeovil, Watford and Bournemouth thus far this season, and the visitors started full of confidence at the DW Stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Dawkins hurtled forward inside the opening two minutes after collecting a clever pass from Will Hughes. The attacking midfielder was subsequently knocked to the ground by a sandwich of Ivan Ramis and Leon Barnett, 25-yards from goal.
Scotland international Bryson and Hughes stood over the ball, before the former curled the set-piece into the inside of the side netting, sending the travelling 2,346 Derby fans into raptures.
Midfielder Ben Watson, scorer of the Latics’ winner against Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup final in May earlier this year, led the Wigan riposte, but fired harmlessly over the crossbar from 25-yards.
However, like a military operation, the Rams remained compact and solid when out of possession, but displayed signs of real fluidity with the ball, which saw the visitors carve open a second sight of goal in the opening quarter-of-an-hour.
Hughes’ initial incisive pass to his onrushing central midfield partner Bryson was initially intercepted by Ramis, but the ball took a deflection and fell kindly into the path of Dawkins. The 25-year-old broke into the penalty area and calmly slid the ball into the bottom corner to double the Rams’ advantage.
Wigan, playing their third fixture in eight days, looked lethargic and placid in attack and lumbering in defence as James McClean tripped Martin in the penalty area as he tried to weave in from the right-hand side in the 29th minute.
The former Norwich City striker took responsibility from the spot, and despite undoubted heckling from his former team-mate Barnett, the striker remained composed and rolled the ball into the bottom right hand corner, sending goalkeeper Nicholls diving in the opposite direction.
Wigan’s frustration became apparent in the 33rd minute when Watson scythed down Johnny Russell inside the Rams’ half, leaving the former Crystal Palace midfielder red faced as he collected a yellow card for his misdemeanour.
The Latics did flicker into life as the half went on with James McArthur waltzing his way into the penalty area, but from a tight angle he fired straight at Grant, whilst left-back Stephen Crainey curled a sumptuous free-kick off the underside of the crossbar before the first 45 came to an end.
Coyle had to be bold at half-time, choosing to implement two changes, brining on Holt and Espinoza for Manchester United loanee Will Keane and Watson, and the duos’ introduction lifted the home supporters, who spurred the Latics on.
A refreshed Wigan swept forward, with Emmerson Boyce heading Crainey’s cross straight into the arms of Grant. However, the early pressure mounted and Derby buckled, as Boyce’s cross was firmly headed into the net by an unmarked Powell.
The Latics continued to stream forward in attack and were unfortunate not to grab a second moments later, when McClean’s left-wing cross was met by McArthur’s downward header, but the ball dropped narrowly wide of Grant's near post.
Wave after wave of Wigan attack continued, as Holt arrowed a cross into the box which took a deflection off of Buxton before rebounding off of the crossbar, prior to Powell forcing Grant into a stunning reflex save in the 71st minute, as he sent a half-volley towards the bottom corner.
Substitute Marc Antoine Fortune wasted a clear opportunity late on, as the striker inexplicably headed straight at Grant from six-yards out, as Derby held on to secure their sixth away victory of the 2013/14 campaign and leapfrog Nottingham Forest and Reading to move up to fifth in the Sky Bet Championship.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace (Hendrick 62’), Bryson, Hughes (Cisse 85’), Dawkins, Martin, Russell (Bennett 58’).
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Keane, Davies, Sammon.
Wigan: Nicholls (GK), Crainey, Watson (Espinoza 45’), McClean, McManaman (Fortune 84’), McArthur, Boyce, Powell, Ramis, Barnett, Keane (Holt 45’).
Subs not used: Carson (GK), Shotton, McCann, Gomez.
Attendance: 15,097 (2,346 visiting supporters).