REPORT: DERBY 0 WIGAN ATHLETIC 1
A thumping Jean Beausejour strike in the second half gave Wigan Athletic the perfect start to 2014 as they ran out 1-0 winners against Derby County at the iPro Stadium.
In a physical battle against one of the Championship in form sides, Latics held out for all three points despite late pressure to make it five games unbeaten and three consecutive clean sheets in a row.
Uwe Rosler made two changes from Sunday's 0-0 draw against Burnley at the DW Stadium, with Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza replacing Stephen Crainey and Jordi Gomez in the starting XI.
It was a competitive first half in the opening game of 2014, with intriguing midfield battles between James McArthur and Chris McCann for Latics, up against Will Hughes and John Eustace for the Rams.
Another physical test was between Marc-Antoine Fortune and Jake Buxton, as Latics' striker attempted to unsettle the strapping centre half.
Instead though, it was the tricky Nick Powell who forced the issue for Latics, working himself one of the chances of the half with quick footwork on the edge of the area.
Space opened up for Powell, but he couldn't get a clean strike away and the ball dribbled wide for a goal kick.
Latics high pressure was clearly causing the Derby defence problems, with passes back to goalkeeper Lee Grant putting him in trouble.
Derby were forcing their own way into the game too though, wide play was clearly their aim, working it to the flanks for Andre Wisdom and Johnny Russell down the right, and the pacey Jamie Ward down the left.
Attacking movement from the hosts created little in terms of chances, but Latics were mustering up goal bound efforts at the other end, the best of which fell to McArthur, who volleyed left footed narrowly over the bar from range.
Powell then had a claim for a penalty turned down when he dribbled between two defenders inside the area and went down under pressure from behind.
The whistle sounded and anticipation grew for David Webb's decision, but to the dismay of Powell a yellow card was raised for what the referee deemed to be simulation.
As the first half came to a close Latics continued to look comfortable handling the power of Chris Martin up front, as they continued to try and find the right formula among their own forwards.
The second half saw chances dry up for a spell, but the high intensity continued as the midfield battle took centre stage.
With the score still at 0-0, fouls and injuries became the talking point of the match, first Leon Barnett and Johnny Russell clashed heads in a 50-50 challenge, James Perch saw a yellow card for a wild tackle on the touchline and Powell held the bottom of his back in pain, signalling for a substitution, before recovering and seeing out the game with an impressive display.
Almost 1,000 travelling Latics supporters began to grow in confidence at the game progressed, calling for the introduction of Callum McManaman, a wish they had granted just a minute before Beausejour fired his side into the lead.
Latics had a corner, a position Derby had defended well all game, but Beausejour changed his point of attack and instead of delivering he play a short one-two with sub McManaman, before unleashing a stunning, left footed drive across Lee Grant and into the top left corner.
Frenzied celebrations were sparked as Beausejour sprinted with McManaman towards the Wigan Athletic supporters, followed by the rest of his team mates, but the hard work was still to be done.
Derby gave a spirited fight after falling behind and it tested Uwe Rosler's team as the Rams began to throw men forwards.
Simon Dawkins came within an ankles width of pulling level when his shot deflected wide off Crainey, but Chris Martin missed the best chance to equalise for Derby when he struck Andre Wisdom's low cross into the ground and over the cross bar from close range.
Former Latics man and substitute Conor Sammon came close too, but he couldn't follow up Will Hughes' shot after Ali Al Habsi pushed the initial effort away.
The fourth official showed five minutes of added time as Latics continued to force Derby back, but the hosts ran out of ideas in the dying moments and Latics held on for a hard-earned victory to start 2014 with three points.