Newcastle 2 Wigan Athletic 1

Graham Barrow
Graham Barrow

A much-improved performance from Wigan Athletic was not quite enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat at Championship leaders Newcastle.

But it may at least give Latics hope for their seven remaining matches that the greatest of ‘Great Escapes’ could yet be on the cards.

It had looked ominous for Latics when Dwight Gayle gave the Toon the lead nine minutes before half-time after great work down the right from ex-Wigan favourite Momo Diame.

But a double change at the interval - with Alex Gilbey and Ryan Colclough taking over from Sam Morsy and Omar Bogle - helped to spark the visitors into life.

Michael Jacobs levelled the scores within four minutes of the restart with a beautiful dinked effort from just inside the box - Wigan’s first goal in open play since the same player netted at Fulham on February 11.

And the visitors wasted a great chance to take the lead when centre-back Dan Burn - a former Newcastle season-ticket holder, playing at St James’ Park for the first time - directed a free header over from eight yards.

And Latics were made to pay when the home side scored what proved to be the winner just before the hour mark, in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, when Matt Ritchie headed home from close range after Matt Gilks had parried out his initial effort.

The result leaves Latics seven points adrift of safety with the same number of games remaining - but with a renewed sense of hope after pushing the division’s top team within an inch of their lives.

Predictably, the hosts had thrown everything at Latics in a frenetic opening to the game.

A Ritchie shot on 12 minutes looked like it would have troubled Gilks only for Jake Buxton to throw himself in the way, with the force of the connection sending the ball flying into the Newcastle half.

Diame was looking dangerous in centre-field, and a neat exchange with Jonjo Shelvey resulted in the latter trying his luck from distance that Gilks dealt with easily.

At the other end, Latics sensed an opening when Shaun MacDonald got his head to a Jamie Hanson corner, with Bogle very close to turning the ball home from close range.

But Newcastle quickly regained the ascendancy, and Gilks had to be alert on the half-hour mark to keep out a free header from Gayle, who’d wriggled away from his marker on the far post.

Sadly, Latics failed to heed the warning, and left Gayle in oceans of space shortly after, and this time the deadly marksman made no mistake to convert a lovely ball from Diame.

Credit Latics for their response, though, and Bogle thought he was in only for goalkeeper Karl Darlow to fly off his line and smother the ball away at the expense of a corner, which was cleared.

That was Bogle’s last involvement, as part of a double Latics change at the interval that also saw Morsy make way for Colcough and Gilbey.

And the switch paid immediate dividends, with Gilbey instantly linking up with Jacobs, who waited for Darlow to commit himself before flicking the ball home for his third goal of the campaign just four minutes after the restart.

The home side, and support, were visibly rocked, and it could have been even better within three minutes, had Burn found the roof of the net with a completely free header rather than the front row of the stand.

And once again Latics were left to rue their misfortune, as Newcastle regained the lead just before the hour mark.

This time there was more than a hint of fortune about it, as Ritchie finally beat Gilks at the third attempt as Latics simply ran out of numbers at the back.

That was the signal for interim boss Graham Barrow to make his third and final change, with defender Craig Morgan taking over from holding midfielder MacDonald, seeing Latics switch to a back five for the last half-hour, with wing-backs Callum Connolly and Stephen Warnock pushing forward at every opportunity.

Again the switch worked in Wigan’s favour, with Connolly seeing a rising shot touched over by Darlow, before the on-loan Everton defender managed to successfully convert a pull-back from Warnock, who unfortunately had run the ball inches out of play for a goal-kick which saw the ‘goal’ chalked off.

Colclough was also working his magic down the left, cutting in with 10 minutes to go and sending in a fierce drive that Darlow was relieved to see fly just over.

With Latics committing more and more men forward, Newcastle inevitably had chances on the break, and Ritchie forced a fabulous save from Gilks, which would have killed off any hopes of a Wigan comeback.

Newcastle were also claiming a penalty in the closing stages, when Ritchie took a tumble under seemingly minimal contract from Buxton, with referee David Coote thankfully waving play on as both management teams voiced their disagreement in the technical area.