WILDSCHUT WINS IT LATESubstitute Yanic Wildschut’s rasping drive in injury time earned Latics a dramatic victory over promotion rivals Walsall and put Gary Caldwell’s Latics back in the automatic promotion places.
The home side had threatened to undo all of Latics’ great work with a stunning second half equaliser to cancel out another cracker from Conor McAleny but if there’s one thing that characterises this Latics team is that they simply never give up – and so it proved again.
Having hardly threatened all game, Walsall were suddenly transformed into an attacking threat after Sam Mantom’s superb strike midway through the second half, and Latics had to be thankful for two excellent saves by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
But Wildschut came onto the field with 20 minutes left and wrote another chapter into his remarkable Latics fairy tale.
Caldwell made two changes going into the match, Sam Morsy returning to the starting line-up in place of Reece Wabara and Ryan Colclough making his first start for the club in place of Wildschut.
After a quiet opening half hour in which Latics had dominated but chances were not taken, the game exploded into life.
David Perkins fizzed in an excellent cross from the right from the left hand side but Grigg, at full stretch, just failed to make a connection. Etheridge then had to block sharply after the ball came off his centre half Paul Downing.
Colclough had been bright down the right channel all half, and almost made the breakthrough in the 38th minute, going on an excellent run, beating two defenders before unleashing a low shot which beat Etheridge but hit the side netting.
A minute later and Latics were ahead, and what a goal again from the Everton loanee McAleny. After another flowing move from Latics, he picked up a pass from Morsy in centre field , took a touch and from the edge of the box, unleashed a dipping effort which gave Etheridge absolutely no chance. The goal was greeted with roars of delight from the 1,800 following at the other end of the stadium.
Latics could have increased their advantage before the break, Donervon Daniels putting a low ball across the face of goal from the right which both Grigg and Chris McCann just failed to reach, then Grigg saw his shot saved from distance.
Saddlers’ skipper Adam Chambers became the third player from Walsall to receive a yellow card before the break when he brought down Colclough on the edge of the box, and McAleny’s curling free-kick was just inches wide.
The home side did not manage a single effort on target such was Latics dominance but did come out of the blocks more brightly for the second half, Jason Demetriou’s shot on the turn inside the box well blocked by Morsy, then Milan Lalkovic firing over.
Back came Latics, Grigg almost poking Colclough’s cross home at the near post in the 53rd minute. Downing could have had a nightmare moment in 58th minute when he headed back towards goal, Etheridge improvising to clear with his head, and Max Power shot over after Grigg had set him up on the edge of the box seconds later. Grigg’s effort was wide a minute later when Daniels found him in the box.
But then Walsall hit back in the 68th minute, completely against the run of play. Demetriou’s free-kick 30 yards out rebounded to Sam Mantom, who unleashed an unstoppable effort from outside the box.
Jaaskelainenen had been a virtual spectator for the previous 70 minutes, but he made two excellent saves within the space of a few seconds to deny first Lalkovic, who had broken clear and Tom Bradshaw from close range on the follow up as Walsall suddenly came to life.
Latics needed to regain their composure quickly, and Caldwell replaced Colclough with Wildschut.
Grigg broke through on the 75th minute, stayed on his feet when his shirt was tugged in the box, but put his shot just wide. Agony for Latics.
Jaaskelainen was forced into another save from Lalkovic, then tipped Anthony Forde’s shot over the bar as Walsall pushed.
Wabara replaced the injured Daniels with five minutes remaining, closely followed by Craig Davies coming on for McAleny. Etheridge smothered Grigg’s shot but then Wildschut cut in from the left side and smashed home from the edge of the box to start the celebrations.