Wigan Athletic maintained their unbeaten run at the DW this season with a straightforward Checkatrade Trophy win over Middlesbrough under-21s.
The result saw Latics overtake Blackpool at the top of Group B in the competition ahead of their final group game against Accrington Stanley on November 7.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing as the young ‘Boro side were only a goal behind going into the final quarter, and it took quickfire goals from Noel Hunt and Ryan Colclough to wedge daylight between the sides.
Assistant manager Leam Richardson took sideline duties as Latics fielded a completely fresh starting XI from Saturday’s 3-1 win at Blackpool, though they were made to work to contain an enthusiastic Middlesbrough in the opening exchanges.
On a night for die-hards and programme collectors, Matija Sarkic continued the tradition of Wigan keepers saving a penalty on their debuts, with a fine save from George Miller’s spot kick in the 13th minute.
Referee Mark Heywood pointed to the spot after a Lee Evans handball, but Sarkic’s parry resulted in Latics pressing to create a chance for Colclough at the other end.
The sides exchanged further chances, as Miller missed the target from close range and Colclough drilled his powerful shot straight at the keeper, but there appeared to be no genuine threat of a goal.
Latics finally made the breakthrough after half an hour when Terrell Thomas drew a foul, with Evans, returning from suspension picked up against Scunthorpe, having no problems beating Zach Hemming from the spot.
Victor Maffeo, making his first start for the first team, doubled Wigan’s advantage with five minutes to go until the break when he latched onto Colclough’s header into the box after Reece James had created the chance with a neat cross to the back post.
Wigan pressed upfield in the first moments after the break before ‘Boro broke, creating a chance for Ben Liddle which he pushed wide.
The away side enjoyed a short period on the front foot as Connor Malley struck the woodwork before Luke Armstrong cut the deficit with a strike on 53 minutes.
He was assisted by 26-year-old summer signing Marvin Johnson, who joined from League One outfit Oxford United for a reported £2.5m, and wasn’t in the first team’s Carabao Cup trip to Bournemouth as he is cup-tied.
As the hour approached, Wigan had a chance to re-establish their two-goal advantage when Evans was awarded a free kick, but Luke Burgess did no damage with the shot, sending it high and wide into the South Stand.
And at the other end, Miller again forced Sarkic into action as he threatened to level the scores, and the North East side dialled up the pressure with a period of possession in Wigan’s half, which only ended when Malley conceded a free kick for pulling Colclough’s shirt.
Miller again threatened to lock the scores with a curled effort from the edge of the box, but Sarkic was relieved to see it sail over as his side continued to find themselves under pressure.
Mwiya Malumo was brought on for his debut with 20 minutes remaining, replacing goal-scorer Maffeo, and two minutes later, Hunt eased the pressure with his first goal for the club.
The result was put beyond doubt just a minute later, when Colclough, returning from injury, put the ball away after a neat one-two with Burgess.
Divin Baningime was the next of the Latics charges to come on for his debut, with the under-18s star replacing Colclough with 11 minutes to go.
The final exchanges were delayed due to an injury to Armstrong, and once play restarted there was enough time for Patrick Reading to find his name in the book and captain Tom Brewitt to earn himself a talking to from the official for a nasty tackle on Tyler Golden.
Wigan Athletic: Sarkic; Golden, Thomas, Long, James; Evans, Perkins (C); Maffeo, Burgess, Colclough; Hunt.
Subs: Evans, Bruce, Roberts, Plant, Baningime, Downey, Malumo.
Middlesbrough U23: Hemming; Hegarty, Reading, McGinley, Cook; Brewitt (C), Liddle, Malley, Soisalo, Miller, Johnson.
Subs: Sylla, Wilson, O’Neill, Armstrong, James