Burton Albion 1 Wigan Athletic 1

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

Wigan Athletic took another huge stride towards an instant return to the Championship after securing a vital 1-1 draw at second-placed Burton.

Latics remain three points clear of the Brewers at top of League One with only three matches to go - home games against Southend and Barnsley and a trip to Blackpool.

The gap to third-placed Walsall, who have a game in hand, remains at six, after the Saddlers were held 1-1 at home by lowly Swindon.

It means a maximum of seven points now stand between Latics and the goal of automatic promotion.

Michael Jacobs, making his first start in over three months, put Latics ahead with only seven minutes on the clock.

However, the Brewers levelled 10 minutes before half-time when Tom Naylor headed Matt Palmer’s cross past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The second half was tense rather than entertaining, with the home side pushing for a winner but mindful that - with results elsewhere - a draw wasn’t a terrible outcome.

Latics had a couple of half-chances to win it at the death, but Will Grigg and Chris McCann couldn’t keep shots down from inside the area.

The cheers from the sold-out away end spoke volumes, and the contingent of over 1,700 were once again an important 12th man for Gary Caldwell’s men.

Latics, reeling from a woeful performance and defeat at Doncaster at the weekend, came flying out of the blocks, and were ahead with their first real attack on goal.

Jacobs was seeing plenty of the ball in the opening stages, and cut in with menace off the right-hand side.

His cross-shot didn’t appear to have much pace on it, but managed to evade everyone in the box including Grigg - and crucially Burton goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin - and crept in at the far post.

The ‘Rothwell Ronaldo’ was almost in again moments later when this time he beat the full-back on the outside, and his cross was only just cut out as Grigg tried to get on the end of it.

Most of Burton’s threat was coming from free-kicks and corners, but Latics were thankfully looking a lot more resolute at the back than they were three days earlier - possible due to the return of Captain Craig Morgan and Reece Wabara.

The home fans were incensed when Lukas Akins took a tumble in the area, and was booked by referee Mr Hooper rather than awarded what would have been an extremely soft spot-kick.

Latics threatened again midway through the first when the ball broke to Conor McAleny on the edge of the area, but his left-foot shot flew inches past the far post.

Burton’s increasing desperation was shown on the half-hour mark when they were claiming another penalty after Stuart Beavon was robbed by a perfect sliding challenge by McCann, in for the suspended David Perkins.

Fortunately the official was again in a good position and rightly pointed for a corner.

McAleny, hooked just before the interval at the weekend, was giving a far better account of himself, and was almost in again only for a home defender to lunge in and block a goalbound shot.

Jacobs then couldn’t quite find Grigg with an ambitious through ball as Latics probed for a second goal.

But the visitors were rocked on their heels when Albion found a leveller 10 minutes before half-time.

It was always going to come from a set-piece, and the left-wing delivery from Palmer was a beauty.

Naylor stole himself half a yard, and planted a firm header beyond Jaaskelainen and into the far corner of the net.

Latics then had to steel themselves for an onslaught from the home side as half-time approached.

But a couple of good crosses were well dealt with by Jason Pearce and Morgan, and the visitors would have gone into the break the happier with the status quo at the top of the table being preserved.

Grigg might have done better from a Max Power at the start of the second period, only to flick it well wide of the mark.

An under-hit ball from Jaaskelainen to Morgan that forced Stephen Warnock into a 50/50 with Naylor that he won - but only after taking a whack from the Burton man, at the expense of a booking.

Latics showed their attacking intent by sending on Yanic Wildschut and Haris Vuckic in the last half-hour, for McAleny and the tiring Jacobs.

And they might have nicked it at the death, only for Grigg and McCann to fail to work the goalkeeper from inside the box.

Burton, too, had a chance in the dying seconds, but Mark Duffy’s header from 10 yards was always too high, and Jaaskelainen was happy to see it go over.

Burton: McLaughlin, Flanagan, Cansdell-Sherriff, Mousinho, Edwards; Choudhury, Duffy, Naylor, Palmer; Akins, Beavon.

Subs: Reilly (for Flanagan, 62), Weir (for Choudrey], 86), Butcher, Walker, O’Connor, Bywater, Bennett.

Latics: Jaaskelainen; Wabara, Morgan, Pearce, Warnock; Morsy, Perkins, Power; McAleny, Jacobs, Grigg.

Subs: Nicholls, Daniels (for Wabara, 86), Chow, Kellett, Vuckic (for McAleny, 69), Wildschut (for Jacobs, 60), Odelusi.

Star Man: Michael Jacobs