LATICS 3 - 2 BARNSLEY
There are comebacks and then there are comebacks. Latics looked dead and buried with 20 minutes remaining of a game they simply had to win, trailing 2-0 having made all the running but been hit on the break by two sucker-punch Barnsley goals.
Then on came Nick Powell and 17 minutes later, Latics were winning.
Five days after his superb free-kick had won the game against Rotherham United, he made an even more amazing contribution to keep Latics’ survival hopes alive after an astonishing eleven minute hat-trick.
Just five minutes after entering the field, he was fouled on the edge of the box, and powered home an angled effort which deceived Barnsley keeper Adam Davies. Before anyone could catch their breath, fellow substitute Ryan Colclough cut into the box, Davies couldn’t hold the shot and Powell was there first to finish and draw Latics level.
Ten minutes later, what had seemed unthinkable became reality as Powell was bundled down in the box by Barnsley skipper Marc Roberts. There was only ever going to be one person taking the kick and he absolutely thumped home the penalty which was greeted by a huge roar of sheer exctasy.
Barnsley had a goal disallowed very late in the game but Latics held out through a tense finish to see out the win.
Graham Barrow made three changes for Latics, with Sam Morsy, Jake Buxton and Callum Connolly returning in place of Alex Gilbey, Craig Morgan and Ryan Colclough.
Latics went a goal down at the break but could count themselves unfortunate having dominated in every way apart from the one that really mattered.
Barrow’s men came out of the traps full of energy and intent, dominating the early exchanges but without finding a way through. Max Power headed over after 10 minutes, Gabriel Obertan put a shot wide after 20 minutes and wasn’t able to curl enough of his boot around the ball after 25 minutes after Michael Jacobs had dispossessed Saidy Janko on the by-line.
The best chance came after 35 minutes when a flowing move involving Jamie Hanson, Power and Connolly eventually saw the ball come into the box where Morsy did well to find space in a crowded area to shoot and Davies stretched out a good arm to parry the ball away at his far post.
Barnsley had threatened when Ryan Kent broke down the left side and put through a dangerous ball across the face of goal that Tom Bradshaw wasn’t quite able to connect with at the far post but they scored with their first meaningful attack, two minutes before half-time.
Marley Watkins did the initial damage attacking Latics through the centre on the break, he fed the ball out wide on the left for Kent whose fiercely struck shot struck Jakob Haugaard’s far upright and came straight back to the unmarked Armstrong at the far post who bundled home from six yards.
Colclough replaced Morsy for the second half, which once again, Latics begun quickly, the best chance coming when Power blasted a 20 yard free-kick just wide of the post on 52 minutes after Colclough had been pulled down.
Jacobs was then fouled on the edge of the box a minute later by Janko, he took it himself but wasn’t able to beat the wall.
Jack Byrne replaced Connolly in the 54th minute and was immediately involved in a move that saw Colclough’s shot beaten away by the legs of Angus MacDonald.
Just before the hour mark. Janko pulled down Jacobs again, the referee spoke to him at length but did not draw out a second yellow, and Barnsley immediately broke away for the second goal.
The quality of the breakaway was clinical, as Bradshaw tore through the heart of the Latics midfield, and fed the ball out to Kent on the right-hand side, who cut inside and fired into the far corner despite Haugaard getting a hand to it.
Powell replaced Obertan after 65 minutes as Barrow made his final throw of the dice but nobody could have anticipated quite the impact he made.
When he was brought down by MacDonald for a free-kick, it was surely too much to hope for history repeating itself. But he stepped up and absolutely thumped the ball past Davies from 20 yards, the ball swerving in the air and nestling into the far corner. A quite incredible strike.
Two minutes later, Colclough cut into the box and struck a great shot which Davies saved but couldn’t hold on to the ball and Powell was quickest to react to poke home.
Powell had mesmerised Barnsley and Gethin Jones decided to try and stop him by any means, his foul near the touchline after 76 minutes leavng the former Manchester United man in a crumpled heap and reducing Latics to ten men while he received treatment.
Power then thought he had snatched a winner with ten minutes remaining when he stretched to poke the ball over Davies but it came off the crossbar.
Powell reentered the field of play and as the DW Stadium was still catching its breath, Hanson launched a throw in into the box from the right and Roberts hauled down Powell in the area.
The referee pointed to the spot and once again the stadium held its breath.
We needn't have worried, Powell absolutely smashed the ball down the middle. Davies dived to his left but even if he had stayed on his feet the ball was hit with such venom, it would probably have crossed the line and taken the keeper with him.
Cue wild celebrations on and off the field.
There was still time for more drama. With two minutes left, Roberts launched a throw in from Barnsley’s right, Haugaard came to reach it but failed to get a connection as he was impeded, the ball fell to Matty James and he scored.
The referee immediately disallowed the goal for a foul on Haugaard, igniting wild protests from the Barnsley players.
Five minutes of additional time were announced and the tension was palpable. Latics looked to have seen out the match but in virtually the final second, Power lost the ball and Kent’s curling shot fell into the grateful arms of Haugaard.
When the final whistle blew there was a huge roar as a quite astonishing comeback was confirmed.
Latics live to fight another day.