SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 1Chris McCann powered Latics into a first half Latics lead but Malky Mackay’s men failed to capitalise on numerous chances to score again and paid the price of two defensive lapses to come away empty handed again from a game in which they did more than enough to get at least a share of the spoils, if not more.
For long spells of the game, Latics were excellent going forwards, carving up the Wednesday defence time and time again with fantastic one touch passing and great pace, but as has been the case most of the season, that clinical touch in the final third, allied to an inspired performance by the opposition goalkeeper, proved to be their undoing.
Mackay made two changes from the 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough last week. James McClean was preferred to Roger Espinoza on the left of midfield, while Shaun Maloney’s illness allowed a welcome first start of the season for Ben Watson. The midfielder made his long-awaited return from nine months out with the broken leg he suffered in February when he came on in the second half against Boro and what a great boost for him personally, and for all at Wigan Athletic, to see him back in a Latics shirt at last.
In a breathless, end-to end first half, both sides found the net once but had numerous chances to increase their tally.
Inside the first 90 seconds, Adam Forshaw burst through into the box and went down under a challenge by Glenn Loovens, but the referee instantly dismissed it. Wednesday then responded quickly by twice coming close, first through Atdhe Nuhiu’s header which flew well over, then Stevie May dived to meet Chris Maguire’s dangerous cross but it was straight at Scott Carson – all this inside the first five minutes.
Latics then came back when Callum McManaman had a shot well saved by Keiren Westwood at his near post after picking up Watson’s pass on the right and driving into the box. He then floated in a delicious ball which Westwood had to be at full stretch to collect and immediately earned a free kick on the right hand touchline. Watson’s delivery caused panic in the Wednesday defence but was scrambled clear.
Wednesday immediately broke away and Jose Semedo’s powerful drive beat Carson, rebounded off the upright and fell straight to Maguire whose shot was strongly parried by Carson.
But then, typically for the way the match was going, a goal was scored at both ends within a minute, in the 26th and 27th minute. First McClean whipped in a terrific right wing corner and Chris McCann stooped at the near post to power in the header. Barely had the Latics players finished celebrating, Wednesday swept up the field and Nuhiu’s clever back heel found May in space and he smashed it home.
Latics then came forward but Wednesday won the ball back and broke away, Carson pulling off a brilliant stop as Royston Drenthe got in front of Emmerson Boyce and looked odds on to score. McManaman then forced Westwood into a scrambled save from inside the box, the Wednesdasy keeper quickly smothering the loose ball with McClean ready to pounce. A superb move then saw McManaman feed McClean on the left, his deep cross found Fortune at the far post, and Westwood again pulled off a great close range save.
Latics finished the half the stronger, another fantastic sweeping move in injury time seeing Forshaw’s goal-bound drive inside the box deflected for a corner by Loovens’ outstretched leg.
Ivan Ramis, who was booked in the first half, was replaced at the break, James Perch slotting in at right back and skipper Emmerson Boyce moving into the centre. Not surprisingly, both teams threatened within a minute, though nothing came of either.
Latics could have doubled their lead from Watson’s corner to the far post in the 53rd minute, Fortune heading back for McClean but his point blank header was cleared off the line by Lewis McGugan. In a repeat move soon afterwards, Boyce this time headed back a second Watson corner and McCann agonisingly volleyed over from the edge of the six yard box. McCann then had another sniff at goal but Loovens did just enough to put him off when meeting McManaman’s low cross from the right.
Disaster struck for Latics on 70 minutes when, having dominated since the break, Jeremy Helan broke into the box from the left hand side, his cross was met by May on the edge of the area and his looping header deceived Carson, striking the inside of the post and trickling along and across the goal line before the lunging Andrew Taylor was able to clear it.
But Latics had two great chances within minutes. First Forshaw was inches away from meeting McManaman’s cross, before McManaman’s drive inside the area whistle wide of Westwood’s upright.
Roger Espinoza replaced Forshaw with a quarter of an hour remaining but as Latics pushed for the equaliser, they offered Wednesday space on the counter attack and May was a whisker away from completing his hat-trick only for Carson came to the rescue after he broke clear.
Latics kept pressing forwards and McClean broke free on the right hand side, only to see his shot again trickle agonisingly wide of the post. Taylor tried his luck from distance in injury-time in the final assault on the Wednesday goal but his 20 yarder flew just over the bar.