Port Vale 3 Wigan Athletic 2

Gary Caldwell
Gary Caldwell
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MIRACULOUS late comeback victories two weeks on the spin was, in fairness, a little bit too much to ask for.

After being again involved in a five-goal thriller for the second Saturday in succession, this time Latics ended up on the wrong side of the result at Port Vale.

And they can have absolutely no complaints whatsoever about returning to the north west with nothing.

For a full hour, Latics were second best across the board, and the game could and should have been out beyond them.

Credit again where it’s due, though, and the players collectively raised their efforts and dragged themselves back on level terms with all the momentum and plenty of time to go on and win it.

This time it wasn’t to be, and boss Gary Caldwell will have to get his thinking cap back on to work out how and why it takes going two goals down for his side to show what they are made of.

Goals from Anthony Grant - an emphatic finish after a woeful mistake from Chris McCann - and Louis Dodds, gave Vale the lead that their superiority undoubtedly merited.

But once again Latics lifted themselves off the canvas to turn the game on its head in a flash in the last quarter.

First, McCann made amends by slotting home from inside the penalty area after good work from Craig Davies.

Then, Leon Barnett rose powerfully to nod home Michael Jacob’s pinpoint corner to send the visiting fans behind the goal into raptures.

With Latics very much in the ascendancy, Caldwell’s men looked good value for a third win on the bounce for the first time in 18 months.

But Barnett instantly went from hero to villain by picking up a straight red card for hauling down Enoch Andoh, who was clean through and bearing down on goal.

In his absence, and a man short, Latics couldn’t clear the subsequent free-kick, and Uche Ikpeazu bundled the ball home from close range to give the scoreline a more realistic look.

And Latics have only themselves to blame, after rarely getting out of first gear in as poor a first half as they’ve put in all season.

After surviving half a penalty shout, when Jacobs appeared to have his arm pulled in the area, Vale gradually took charge and began asking all of the questions.

A dangerous cross from the right saw Ikpeazu get his head to the ball, although not with enough conviction to trouble Rich O’Donnell.

Indeed, the big targetman was proving a handful for the three-man Latics rearguard of Barnett, Donervon Daniels and Jason Pearce.

And it was no surprise when the home side eventually took the lead just after the half-hour mark - with more than a helping hand from the visitors.

McCann initially did well to mop up a Vale attack just inside his own area.

But as he turned and attempted to start a Latics counter, he succeeded only in presenting the ball straight to Grant, who lashed the ball past a helpless O’Donnell.

Wigan’s discomfort was shown four minutes before the break, when boss Caldwell elected to make a double substitution.

Haris Vuckic, who had earlier headed over from a good position, limped off after a particularly robust challenge.

But the surprising withdrawal of Daniels was purely tactical with Latics losing the midfield battle hands down and in need of a new strategy.

Vale picked up where they left off after the break, playing some nice stuff, and Barnett was required three times in quick succession to clear the ball from the Latics box.

Jonjoe Kenny, not for the first time, played himself into trouble and was forced to take a yellow card, after getting the wrong side and tugging his opponent’s shirt.

Carl Dickinson ought to have done better when he headed over from bang in front, but the respite was inly temporary.

Latics again couldn’t clear their lines from another Vale corner, and this time Dodds blasted into the corner of O’Donnell’s net.

Caldwell played his final card by sending on Will Grigg - back from international duty - for Reece James, and going all-out attack.

And the change reaped immediate dividends when Davies’ neat groundwork allowed McCann to reduce the arrears with a cool finish.

Grigg then came desperately close to getting on the end of a couple of tempting crosses across the Vale box, before McCann shot straight at the goalkeeper from 10 yards.

A beautifully disguised ball from Jacobs looked like it had released Grigg, who couldn’t find his feet in the area and was quickly dispossessed.

Pushing for an equaliser, Latics were having to leave themselves short at the back, and Vale twice created and then squandered chances to kill off the game.

Dodds’ shot forced a magnificent save from O’Donnell at full stretch, before defender Ben Purkiss joined the attack only to fire inches over.

But Latics were gradually winning the arm-wrestle and finally got their reward with seven minutes remaining.

Jacobs floated in a pinpoint corner from the left, and Barnett met the ball with a powerful header that flew into the roof of the net.

Before Latics could focus their attentions on pushing for a winner, however, they were pegged back with the sending-off of Barnett for a clear professional foul on Enoch Andoe.

And they suffered double punishment when the remaining defenders failed to clear the subsequent free-kick, and Ikpeazu bundled in from close range for a dramatic winner.