ROTHERHAM UNITED 1 WIGAN ATHLETIC 2Two stunning first half free-kicks, along with an equally stunning second half-rear-guard action defensive display that included an absolutely breath-taking late double save from Ali Al Habsi, earned Latics a superb successive fourth away win to keep everyone believing that the great escape is still possible.
Rotherham fired in a succession of balls into the box from virtually the first whistle to the last and Latics had to be so strong and disciplined defensively in the face of at time relentless pressure – surviving five long minutes of injury time at the end of the game to celebrate another great victory on the road.
It was another fantastic example of the progress being made for new-look Latics, and gives everyone associated with the club renewed hope that at last we are moving back in the right direction. The guts, the determination, the belief of every single player was there for all the fans to see – and when you add to that the quality we saw from both Pennant and Al Habsi, then latics fans have grounds for optimism again.
Malky Mackay was forced to shuffle his pack slightly at the last minute with Scott Carson a late withdrawal, Al Habsi returning to the starting line-up after three games on the bench. Leon Clarke was not able to shrug off his hamstring problem so Latics were otherwise unchanged.
Roared on by another great away day following, Latics had to withstand an early bombardment from their hosts, and had to stay strong and disciplined. But stay strong they did and made the double breakthrough on the half hour mark with two absolute stunners from Pennant.
The first came on 31 minutes when James McClean claimed he was fouled by Kirk Broadfoot in the box, the referee signalling instead for a free-kick on the 18 yard line – McClean clearly made his feelings a little too strongly to the referee, who showed him a yellow card, which means he will miss the home matches against Watford and Bolton alas, the only real negative from the game.
Pennant floated a beauty over the wall to Adam Collins’ right, giving the keeper no chance, and sent the Latics fans into raptures as he ran halfway across the pitch to celebrate in front of them.
If that wasn’t good enough, he then repeated that goal with arguably an even better one five minutes later.
This time Millers defender Farrend Rawson fouled Marc-Antoine Fortuné in virtually the exact same spot, just a little further to the left. Pennant put his effort to the other side of Collin this time, a beautiful curling free-kick and as good a dead-ball strike as you’ll see anywhere.
The celebration was also a replica of his first, running back with his arms aloft toward the jubilant Latics fans.
Rotherham responded when Republic of Ireland international Paul Green was able to weave his way past the Latics rear-guard to blast just over and then they scored with virtually the last ball of a half that may have started slowly but certainly finished with a bang. Matt Derbyshire found space at the far post to reach Ben Pringle’s cross with an angled header that gave Al Habsi no chance.
Rotherham came out of the blocks all guns blazing for the second half much like they began the first and tried to blast their way through, and came close when Danny Lafferty slid in at the far post without making connection with Jack Hunt’s cross.
Latics were pegged back in their own half and William Kvist was sent on to replace Sheyi Ojo on the hour mark as Mackay sought to solidify the midfield in the face of the continued Rotherham onslaught.
Latics had to withstand huge pressure as Rotherham continued to pump balls in. Jason Pearce Pearce and Harry Maguire were huge as they headed away a succession of crosses, and Al Habsi dived well to save Kari Arnasson’s header from near the penalty spot.
Don Cowie replaced Pennant on 75 minutes but still Latics were only rarely able to relieve the pressure on the counter, although Kvist thought he had scored his first goal for the club when his 85th minute deflected effort was clawed away for a corner by the back-pedalling Collin after it looked to have beaten him.
Then came the Ali show.
Rotherham thought they had equalised but had not gambled on a magical double save to deny substitute Jordan Bowery, first diving at full length to his left at point blank range to parry a powerful header from five yards, then scrambling away the follow up. Absolutely stunning and the Omani at his absolute best.
Latics had to withstand five more agonising minutes of injury time and when the whistle finally blew the players to a man went to celebrate in front of another superb away following – what a day.