Wigan Athletic took another step closer towards promotion as they battled to a 0-0 draw away at Burton Albion. Another packed out away end followed the lads down to Staffordshire but unfortunately couldn’t see Latics secure their 14th away win of the season.
Leam Richardson named the same side for the third consecutive game, with the only squad change being Tom Pearce taking Jamie McGrath’s spot on the bench. Considering how much has been made of our hectic fixture schedule it looks like Leam is reluctant to rotate things too much, favouring consistency over a bit more freshness.
The game got off to a cagey start, as you’d expect given what was at stake for the away side. Burton are a side with nothing to play for and nothing to lose and this showed on the pitch, they looked a lot calmer than most sides do against Latics in the early stages.
10 minutes passed without any shots on goal as Latics tried to get to grip with the short, thin and boggy Burton pitch. A few long range efforts from Tom Naylor and Callum Lang were the only real opportunities to speak of early on, but on 25 minutes the away side really should’ve opened the scoring.
A long ball forward wasn’t dealt with by the Brewers’ defence and Josh Magennis pounced on the loose ball. After shrugging off the covering defender he closed in on goal before firing a tame shot straight at Matej Kovar. What’s even more frustrating than the disappointing miss is the fact that Callum Lang was alongside Magennis, and had the ball been squared to him he would’ve almost certainly made it 1-0.
This was the one and only moment of genuine promise for Latics in the first half, after the miss the home side took complete control.
Ben Amos was tested from long range and saved well, but it looked as though we couldn’t get the ball out of our own defensive third. Consistent fouling from both sides made it a very scrappy end to the first half and Latics would definitely have been the happier of the two sides to hear the half time whistle.
We started the second half much better and had a couple of half chances to open the scoring. Callum Lang was close to a goal of the season contender with a 40 yard chip and Tom Naylor stung the palms of Kovar from range as well, but nothing clear cut was created.
Burton clung on well and defended valiantly, and after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made 2 subs on the hour mark the home side began to find their feet.
Former Premier League forward Oumar Niasse was introduced and, despite picking up a booking almost immediately, he looked like a threat from the off. Burton began delivering crosses into the box from all angles and Latics’ defence were tested greatly but stood firm. Fouls and yellow cards began to flood in and the game was fizzling out towards a 0-0.
Then in the 94th minute disaster struck for Latics. A long punt up field bobbled off Tom Naylor towards Jack Watmough. The usually dependable Latics Number 5 missed the ball and allowed Louis Moult through on goal. With the goal at his mercy Moult looked set to score but for an incredible last ditch tackle from Jason Kerr.
However, the danger wasn’t over. A scramble on the edge of the box left Ben Amos stranded and when Joe Powell chipped the ball into what looked to be an empty net Latics’ 8 game unbeaten run was all but over.
Then out of nowhere came a flying 6’4 Geordie Centre Half who rose high and flicked the ball over the bar with his head. A truly remarkable goal saving clearance from Newcastle loanee Kell Watts ensured Wigan left with the clean sheet and another point on the board. Usually the credit goes to Latics’ forward line but yesterday highlighted how lucky we are to have a fantastic defensive unit.
The point means we move 4 points clear of 2nd placed MK Dons with a game in hand, and following their 3-0 defeat to Portsmouth yesterday we’re now 7 points clear of 3rd placed Rotherham United.
Player of the Match
There was only one stand out moment of excellence for Wigan yesterday and it would be wrong not to award the player involved with the (hugely coveted and extremely important Talkingwigan) Player of the Match award. Kell Watts has been excellent whenever he’s been called upon during his year on loan at the club and yesterday was no different.
It would be easy to focus solely on the goal saving clearance he made but it’s worth mentioning his all round defensive performance was marvellous as well. Watts made 2 blocks, 3 ground clearances, 1 aerial clearance, 1 interception and 6 recoveries on the left of the back 3 and as previously mentioned they were heavily tested throughout.
The clearance will make the headlines though. The anticipation of the shot is that of a player well beyond his young age, the perfectly timed jump wouldn’t look out of place on a basketball court and the bravery to do it all in the first place should not be underestimated. He earned Latics a point and it could be a huge one come the end of the season.
We had to show a different kind of quality yesterday and it’s good to see we’re capable of it. Many people, including myself I must add, predicted a relatively straight forward victory for Latics. I knew Burton would be resolute but I didn’t expect them to cause us the problems they did so fair play to the Brewers.
From a Wigan point of view it was a battling performance that is vital at this point of the season. If we can’t win the game it’s vital we don’t lose it and the squad made sure they left with the point and the clean sheet.
9 points is the official number of points we need for promotion, but if Rotherham’s slump continues that number could fall. If we keep focusing on ourselves we’ll be fine, starting on Saturday at home to Cambridge. Up the Tics!