MIDDLESBROUGH 1 WIGAN ATHLETIC 0A great second half comeback from Malky Mackay’s men narrowly failed to yield any reward as Latics went down by a single Patrick Bamford goal in a close encounter at The Riverside Stadium.
Once again, lady luck did not smile kindly on Latics, as the Chelsea loanee’s shot appeared to deflect off the back of Jason Pearce on the edge of the box and loop into the far corner beyond Ali Al Habsi’s reach.
So huge frustration once again as Latics’ magnificent run of away victories comes to an end after they pushed promotion contenders Boro all the way. Results elsewhere see Latics drop a place in the table but the gap to safety remains at five points. That is the only stat that really matters.
Mackay made just the one change from the home draw against Bolton Wanderers, with leading scorer James McClean available again after serving his two match suspension and returning to the starting line up in place of Marc-Antoine Fortuné.
After a cagey opening few minutes from both sides, Boro were the first to show but after a goalmouth skirmish there was no one on the end of a right-wing cross by Albert Adomah that flashed across the face of Ali Al Habsi’s goal.
Latics responded with McClean running virtually the full-length of the pitch on the counter and forcing a corner. Then Dimi Konstantopoulos parried away a shot from point blank range from Leon Clarke after spilling Gaëtan Bong’s free-kick in the box.
As Boro broke quickly away, the ball came in from the right into a ruck of players, it was parried away to the edge of the box where Patrick Bamford arrived late and struck a shot which seemed to deflect off the back of Pearce and loop and make it impossible for Al Habsi to reach.
20 minutes gone and a big early blow.
Bamford mcould have made it worse two minutes later, when Jelle Vossen teed him up inside the box this time but Al Habsi was able to parry away for a corner.
Latics did continue and try to put the home side on the back foot but were not able to carve out anything clear-cut in front of goal before the break and inevitably left themselves susceptible to the counter-attack.
Bong had to scoop it away from the feet of Bamford inside the six yard area, then Pearce came to the rescue after George Friend overlapped down the left side and found himself free in the box and Adam Clayton saw a long-range daisy cutter deflected a yard wide of the upright.
As Mackay attempted to regain the initiative, Fortuné replaced Josh Murphy for the second half, with McClean pushing back out to the left wing and the Frenchman now spearheading the attack alongside Clarke.
The switch immediately gave Latics a more muscular presence in the Boro half.
Martyn Waghorn then replaced Clarke on 61 minutes as Latics continued to toil away for the equaliser, and almost snatched it as minute later when Fortuné turned brilliantly and forced a good save from Konstantopoulos, Waghorn just unable to reach the loose ball – easily Latics’ best chance of the game so far.
Latics suddenly seemed to have a spring in their step and after another great run from McClean, his deep cross fell to Kim Bo Kyung, who set up Jermaine Pennant but he skewered it wide. It was his last contribution, as William Kvist came on for the final 22 minutes.
Latics continued to press, James Perch trying his luck from distance, but it was well wide.
Boro substitute Lee Tomlin forced Al Habsi into a smart save with his feet as they countered but back came Latics, Fortuné swivelling in the box, his shot going straight at Konstantopoulos.
Latics had Boro backpedalling now, and you could sense the anxiety mounting around the Riverside Stadium. McClean dinked in a cross from the left which Konstantopoulos had to swallow up at the feet of the onrushing Waghorn. But still no breakthrough.
Kim set up McClean at the far post as Latics made further inroads but the Irishman could not make any sort of decisive contact.
Ten minutes to go – could Latics finally get what they were looking for?
Kvist launched in two of his trademark long throws and there was panic in the Boro box until they finally managed to clear the ball. McClean found himself free at the far post again but it was cleared.
Four minutes of injury time announced and Latics were throwing everything forwards still. Would there be time for one more attempt? A free-kick was launched into the box by Kim near the half-way line but cleared and Boro had suddenly two players bearing down on the Korean in front of goal, Tomlin’s shot coming off Kim for a corner.
Agony for Latics but the noise of the cheer at the final whistle from the homes side illustrated how close it was.