Derby County 0 Wigan Athletic 0

Wigan Athletic stopped the rot with a first point in six matches at promotion-chasing Derby - and it could have been all three if they'd made the most of a dominant first-half display.

Saturday, 31st December 2016, 4:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th January 2017, 3:49 am
Michael Jacobs

Latics didn’t look at all like a team that had lost all five of their previous fixtures in December, and took the game to their in-form opponents from the off.

Will Grigg his the post on the 11-minute mark from a Jordi Gomez corner, with team-mate Jake Buxton unable to force home the rebound from close range.

The Northern Ireland striker had an even better opportunity on the half-hour mark, when he raced clear with only Scott Carson to beat.

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However, the Rams goalkeeper hadn’t conceded a goal in his previous seven home games, and showed exactly why with a superb reflex stop to keep the low shot out.

Michael Jacobs also came close to putting Latics ahead against his old side, only for Carson to again thwart his former employers with a fine save diving to his right.

The unease around the stadium was very noticeable at the interval and, in fairness, the home side gave a more accurate account of themselves after the break.

But Latics successfully managed to kep them at arm’s length, with Jussi Jaaskelainen only really forced to make one real save of note, to tip over a dipping free-kick from Thomas Ince at the three-quarter mark.

The result leaves Latics second-from-bottom of the Championship, but the performance was a million times better than the debacle at Rotherham on Boxing Day.

And with the transfer window finally open, boss Warren Joyce is at last able to stamp his own authority on the squad he inherited from Gary Caldwell in November.

The opening exchanges were played out to the soundtrack of ‘Jake Buxton is a football genius’, the Derby fans’ ode to their former favourite, who was making his first return in enemy colours following his summer transfer.

And the big centre-half immediately showed why he retains cult status at Pride Park with a magnificent block to snuff out the home side’s first sight at goal from Bradley Johnson.

Buxton was quickly in the game at the other end too, as Latics almost took the lead on the 11-minute mark.

Gomez’s deep corner found Grigg at the far post, and the striker’s volley beat Carson only to come back off the post.

Unfortunately for Latics, Buxton couldn’t quite force the ball over the line, and the defence happily cleared their lines.

Latics had another big chance on 15 minutes, when a left-wing cross from Stephen Warnock - another former Derby man - found the unmarked Jacobs at the far post.

The connection from Wigan’s third returning Ram was decent and the ball arrowed towards the far corner, only for Carson to tip it round the post for a corner.

Derby were enjoying most of the ball but doing little with it, the visitors’ defence webeing more than happy to hold their line and repel any ball that came into their box.

And Latics continued to look dangerous on the break, with Yanic Wildschut breaking down the left and only just unable to find Grigg or Max Power.

The ball was cleared to Gomez, who lashed well over from the edge of the area.

Wigan’s growing confidence was shown when centre-back Dan Burn picked up the ball well inside his own half, and charged forward like Franz Beckenbauer towards the Derby area.

The visitors briefly had a three-on-two overlap for a moment, only for Burn to lose possession, and the green shirts had to scramble back to halt the counter.

Latics created, and squandered, another gilt-edged opportunity on the half-hour mark.

They wouldn’t have wanted it to fall to anyone else other than Grigg, last season’s League One Golden Boot winner.

But after racing clean through down the middle, the striker’s low shot across goal was superbly snaffled by Carson, to the relief of most inside the stadium.

Carson then had to be at full stretch to claw out a deep cross from Jacobs, with only a Johnny Russell effort - that flew a couple of yards over the top - of any concern to Latics.

However, after failing to convert their superiority into goals, Latics were given a firm warning just before the break when Bradley Johnson - scorer of the only goal when these sides met earlier in the month - headed goalwards and Jaaskelainen did well to tip the ball over - although the whistle had gone for a free-kick in any case.

After ending the half on top, Derby picked up where they left off and initially laid siege to the Wigan goal.

Johnson fired a shot straight at Jaaskelainen, who did even better to tip over a lovely free-kick from Ince that was creeping into the top corner.

Latics made their first change with 15 minutes to go, Nathan Byrne for Andy Kellett, with Adam Le Fondre taking over from Grigg shortly after.

But the home side continued to press, and substitute Matej Vydra must have thought he’d won it inside the last 10 minutes, only to pull his shot inches past the far post with Jaaskelainen struggling to get there.

Jordan Flores took over from Wildschut with 88 minutes on the clock, for his first outing in the league since being sent off at Oldham in September 2015.

But Latics were able to successfully negotiate the four minutes of stoppage-time without alarm to send their fans home with some much-needed positivity to take into 2017.