Southend 0 Wigan Athletic 0

Gary Caldwell

Gary Caldwell

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LEON Barnett did everything but score on an eventful return to the starting XI as Wigan Athletic were held 0-0 at Southend.

The big centre-half was one of five changes made by boss Gary Caldwell to try to inject a bit of freshness to the starting XI for a third game in seven days.

And he was nearly rewarded with Barnett three times coming within a whisker of what would have been a precious winning goal.

All three chances were created by the excellent Max Power, whose dead-ball delivery always looked to be the visitors’ most likely source of attacking joy.

Eight minutes before half-time, Power floated in a corner for Barnett to steer the ball goalwards only to be hacked away by Will Atkinson right on the line.

Barnett came equally close six minutes after the restart when Ryan Leonard this time found himself in the right place at the right time to scramble the ball away.

Then, in stoppage-time, it was very close to being third time lucky for the ex-Norwich man, only to strike the crossbar with the last kick of the game.

At the other end, Latics had a lucky escape in the opening skirmishes when Leonard struck the bar with a clever, curling shot from 25 yards that had Jussi Jaaskelainen well beaten.

With results elsewhere largely going their way, Latics remain in fifth place in League One, five points behind leaders Coventry after 20 matches.

After being equal to everything Southend had to throw at them, they came on stronger in the second period and will feel that, on another day, they could easily have nicked it.

The home side undoubtedly started the brighter and almost took the lead on six minutes with what proved to be their best chance of the 90 minutes.

Ben Coker worked a smart short-corner routine, straight off the training ground, to find Leonard in acres of space.

The midfielder’s side-footed effort from 25 yards wrong-footed Jaaskelainen, only to come back off the crossbar and away to safety.

There was a flashpoint on the 17-minute mark when David Mooney ghosted his way into the Latics box and went to ground under little or no contact from Barnett.

Thankfully, referee Keith Stroud was in a fantastic position and made absolutely the right call to wave away the penalty appeals and caution Mooney for simulation.

Latics almost gave themselves an unnecessary scare on the half-hour mark when Jaaskelainen failed to hold on to a stinging strike from Jack Payne.

The goalkeeper was able to regather before a Southend attacker could take advantage, although he took a stray boot to the body for his troubles which he clearly didn’t appreciate.

After soaking up the pressure, Latics finished the half on top and almost broke the deadlock eight minutes before half-time.

Power’s inviting corner found Barnett, whose half-volley was hacked off the line by Atkinson with goalkeeper Daniel Bentley struggling to get there.

The rebound fell to Alex Revell, who could only lash wildly over the top.

Before the half-time whistle, Latics were forced into an early change when Chris McCann pulled up lame with a groin injury right in front of the dug-out.

That allowed David Perkins to come on, and the tenacious midfielder managed to pick up a yellow card immediately for dragging back Payne.

Latics started the second half with a spring in their step and almost took the lead within six minutes of the restart.

Power’s corner from the right flank was pinpoint for Barnett, whose volley was creeping inside the near post before Leonard headed it behind.

Reece James then cut in off the left-hand side before unleashing a right-foot shot that warmed the hands of Bentley.

At the other end, it need vital interceptions from Don Cowie and then Donervon Daniels to repel the danger from whipped-in balls from the flank.

Shrimpers skipper John White then showed quick feet inside the Wigan box to turn and shoot just wide of Jaaskelainen’s left-hand post.

Latics tried to tip the balance back their way with Will Grigg coming off and Michael Jacobs coming on to play just behind Revell.

But the visitors were nearly picked off on the break - as they had been in midweek against Burton - when a Latics corner inadvertently led to a great chance for the opposition.

Power’s corner was cleared to Payne, who bided his time on the left-hand side before sending in a cross that narrowly dissected his team-mate in the middle and also the far post.

Craig Davies took over from Francisco Junior with 15 minutes to go, and the new man was immediately in the game when he almost got on the end of Jacobs’ cracker of a cross.

Jacobs then teed up Power, whose low shot looked goalbound before being deflected behind for another corner.

Again the set-piece delivery from Power was accurate, but Davies couldn’t keep his header down.

Davies was putting himself about as much as he could in the limited time available, seeing another shot flash just wide before launching another effort high into the night air.

By this stage, it looked like the home side had settled for a point as they sat back and attempted to see the game out.

But there was very nearly a late sting in the tail, three minutes into stoppage-time, after Davies and Perkins forced yet another corner.

Power once more sent the ball in, and Barnett pipped Revell to the ball.

Unfortunately, from six yards out, he could only stab against the bar with the goalkeeper utterly helpless.