REPORT: CHESTERFIELD 2 WIGAN ATHLETIC 3Gary Caldwell earned his first away victory as Latics manager after an incredible nine minutes late in the second half saw his side overturn a two goal deficit to claim the points at the Proact Stadium.
Goals from Leon Barnett, Craig Davies and Jordy Hiwula, the last coming in the 90th minute, saw Latics come from two goals down after Dan Gardner’s superb opener and a Barnett own goal looked to have made it another frustrating away day for Caldwell and his men.
In truth Latics were unfortunate to find themselves two down, having forged a number of chances and found Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee in sparkling form. But persistence eventually paid off and after Barnett’s opener, Latics had the bit between their teeth to set up a spellbinding finale.
Chesterfield simply had no answer to Davies’ power in particular, but there were some fantastic performances all over the field and the Latics players deservedly took the applause from the fans at the end.
Caldwell was forced into making changes with the absences through international call-ups of Will Grigg and Jonjoe Kenny, plus a shoulder injury to skipper Craig Morgan. Deadline day signing Haris Vuckic was brought in to partner Davies in attack to make his debut, while Sean Murray, who this week extended his loan from Watford until January, made his first start for Latics in the centre of midfield. Barnett returned to replace Morgan at the back, with the armband passing to Jason Pearce.
After a cagey start from both teams, both managers will have been disappointed to go in level at the break, with two superb saves from either goalkeeper the two stand-out moments in the first half.
Chesterfield were the first to show, in the 15th minute, Dan Gardner floated in a dangerous free kick and Richard O’Donnell pulled off a wonder save to deny Ian Evatt’s header from point blank range.
Five minutes later and there was a controversial moment in the Latics box, or just outside it to be precise, where Lee Novak appeared to be fouled by Daniels. The referee played advantage only for Novak to then fall inside the box under a second Daniels challenge. The referee pulled the play back for the initial infringement with the Chesterfield players baying for the penalty.
The scare seemed to wake Latics and they dominated the rest of the half. Davies latched on to a superb pass from Max Power to draw the save from Tommy Lee. From the resultant corner routine, Murray saw his goal bound effort blocked and Vuckic blazed over from the edge of the box. Then Michael Jacobs sent Davies away and his angled shot was again well saved and Jacobs himself swung in a really dangerous free-kick that was tipped over the bar by Lee.
Then, in the 38th minute, Latics came close again. Davies was fouled on the edge of the box, he got up to take the free-kick, which was low, the balled seemed to ricochet under the Chesterfield wall, falling to Daniels, who slid in with Liam O’Neill to shoot but the ball flew the wrong side of Lee’s upright. O’Neill was forced to limp off after the collision, having stayed on the ground for a long time, reflected in the six additional minutes played at the end of the half.
With four of those minutes played, Lee denied Jacobs with a save as good as O’Donnell’s after a superb build-up with Vuckic sliding in Davies whose reverse pass found Jacobs in space on the edge of the box. Lee flew across the path of the shot to deny Latics the opener.
Charlie Raglan’s outstretched leg denied Vuckic a clear run into the box as the second half opened but it was the home side who dominated the opening stages and Latics had to concentrate.
Caldwell made a double substitution on the hour mark. Chirs McCann replaced Daniels, who had emerged for the second half with a bandage across his head following a clash with Lee Novak in the first half, and Hiwula came on for Vuckic.
Football is decided on such fine margins at times and the game swung as Chesterfield scored two goals in six minutes.
Latics could have scored after a great run from David Perkins, Lee reached his cross from the left, the ball fell invitingly at the feet of Davies six yards out, but he was who was stretching and it whistled over rather than under the bar as the Latics fans behind the goals stared in disbelief.
A minute later and Latics were behind, as Chesterfield broke down their left side and Gardner cut in to fire a great curling effort from the edge of the box past O’Donnell.
Then came the second goal and O’Donnell was again helpless to prevent it. Daniel Jones swung in a right wing free-kick, Leon Barnett reached it first but was only able to direct the ball past his own goalkeeper.
Latics continued to look for a breakthrough, Davies shooting straight at Lee and Hiwula denied by a strong tackle, before another great save from Lee who came out to deny Davies.
Andy Kellett came on for his debut in the 75th minute to replace Murray and Latics immediately scored, after the substitute’s quick running forced a corner. The ball was cleared and came to Barnett on the edge of the box, who chested it down and fired in a superb drive – what a way to redeem yourself.
Davies then turned his marker in the box but there was no one to poke in the cross. Latics somehow failed to score in their next move when Davies was denied by Lee again, then Hiwula smashed the ball against the bar with the open goal gaping.
Then, at last, Latics broke through again, McCann broke through this time and was scythed down in the area by Sam Hird and Davies drove home the spot kick, firing low to Lee’s right, to the delight of the 1,000-strong army of fans behind the goal.
And two minutes later, the transformation was complete and it was Kellett again who was involved, finding space in the box, Lee saved and Hiwula blasted home the loose ball from close range.
What a finish, though there was still time for O’Donnell to push away an effort from Jay O’Shea before the celebrations could begin.