Walsall 1 Latics 2
GARY Caldwell says he knew Yanic Wildschut would be Wigan Athletic's match-winner at Walsall - 24 hours in advance of the game!
The Latics chief left Wildschut on the bench for the big six-pointer against the Saddlers.
With the scores locked at 1-1 deep inside the final quarter, the flying Dutchman was unleashed on a tiring home defence.
And he showed his star quality with a brilliant last-gasp winner to send Latics up to second place in League One.
“Yanic’s not happy about being sub, and it is very difficult to leave a player of his quality out,” acknowledged Caldwell.
“But I’ve said all along that it’s a squad effort, and everyone has to play their part.
“I spoke to Yanic on Friday, and I actually told him that he was going to win the game for us.
“To be fair, he didn’t disappoint, and he gave the team an impetus when they needed it.”
Latics had deserved their half-time lead given them by Conor McAleny’s wonder-goal on 39 minutes.
But after Sam Mantom equalised at the three-quarter mark, Latics were indebted to veteran goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for keeping them in the game with a string of fine stops.
“He’s older than me,” Caldwell smiled! “But he’s sensational, and he kept us in it at times.
“I thought the whole team helped out in that respect.
“When you’re away from home and the whole momentum switches like it did thanks to one fantastic strike from them, you need character in the team.
“If you want to win big games, it’s not going to be easy.
“We saw the game out like men and we looked a strong team.”
Wildschut’s winning goal sparked joyous scenes in the away end, with several fans getting on to the field to indulge in good-natured celebrations with their heroes.
While it’s not the first time this has happened this term, Caldwell pleaded with the authorities to show clemency.
“If you stop fans celebrating then you kill football,” he added.
“That’s what they pay good money for - to see their team winning a game like that.
“I don’t think anyone was hurt, I don’t think there was any aggression shown towards anyone.
“It was just sheer joy at seeing their team win, and if we punish fans for that then we’re losing what the game’s all about.”
The flying Dutchman - who’d hardly had a kick after appearing off the bench as a 73rd-minute substitute - drifted in off the left wing before picking his spot in the bottom corner, and sending the 1,799 travelling supporters from Wigan into raptures.
Latics had been good value for the lead afforded them by Conor McAleny’s fantastic strike from distance six minutes before half-time - his second goal in just three starts since arriving on loan from Everton.
But a failure to kill off the game when well on top came back to haunt Latics when the home side levelled at the three-quarter mark, as Sam Mantom rifled home from just outside the box with a strike every bit as good as McAleny’s earlier effort.
The home side then threw everything as Latics, who were indebted to goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for pulling off a string of superb saves to keep his side on level terms.
Just when it looked like honours would end even, though, there was to be a late sting in the tail.
And Wildschut underlined his star quality when he cut in from the flank and smashed a low shot that left Walsall goalkeeper Neil Etheridge utterly helpless.
The win extends Wigan’s unbeaten run to 11 matches, and means Caldwell’s men have now lost only two of their last 25 games - a sequence that sees them break into the automatic promotion places for the first time this season.