Wigan Athletic 0 Derby 1
Wigan Athletic drew a blank for the fourth home game in a row as they crashed to a 1-0 defeat to in-form Derby.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territory, Latics were unable to break down a determined Rams rearguard.
And Bradley Johnson’s 15th-minute header, off Thomas Ince’s inviting free-kick, proved decisive.
The closest Latics came to a leveller was a header from Max Power on the hour mark that came back off the bar with Scott Carson well beaten.
And not even the second-half introduction of strikers Will Grigg, Adam Le Fondre and Kaiyne Woolery - for his Latics debut - could swing the balance back in their favour.
The result sees Latics slip down a place to 23rd in the table, with tough tests against Aston Villa and Newcastle to come in the next 10 days.
Latics had gone into the game looking to record back-to-back victories for the first time this season, but knew it wouldn’t be straight-forward against a Derby side looking for fifth win on the bounce.
Yanic Wildschut, the hero of last Monday’s win at Huddersfield, was quickly into the game and looking to unsettle the Derby defence at every opportunity.
Marcus Olsson had his name taken almost immediately for a foul on the Dutchman, although Latics couldn’t take further advantage from the free-kick.
Michael Jacobs headed over before Luke Garbutt, filling in at right-back for the first time in his career, blazed into the Derby fans in the North Stand as Latics looked to land an early blow.
But instead it was the visitors who broke the deadlock with their first real sight of goal on 15 minutes.
Annoyingly, Latics were the architects of their own downfall, surrendering possession on halfway and then giving away a cheap free-kick 30 yards from goal.
Ince sent over the set-piece from the left channel, and Johnson rose highest to plant a header beyond the clutches of Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Latics had an immediate chance to make amends, but Craig Morgan couldn’t keep his header down from a Jacobs corner.
It was almost 2-0 to Derby on the 20-minute mark, when Johnny Russell seized on a poor backpass from Garbutt and rounded Jaaskelainen, only to stab his shot against the near post from a tight angle.
And the let-off seemed to galvanise Latics, who upped the ante and asked some serious questions for the rest of the half.
A great run from Wildschut saw the ball almost fall for Jordi Gomez, only for the Derby defence to hack it away.
Jacobs sent a free-kick just over the top, before Power tried his luck from distance, forcing a decent save from former Latic Carson.
A lovely move from Latics involving Power and David Perkins saw the ball end up with Wildschut, who either didn’t see Power in acres on the penalty spot or chose to ignore him, but either way it was a glorious chance missed just before the break.
Latics picked up where they’d left off after the restart, with a scramble in the Derby box being cleared in the nick of time.
Gomez made way for Grigg on 57 minutes, and Latics began to play some of their best football of the afternoon.
The home side were almost gifted an equaliser with a fluke to end all flukes, as Garbutt horribly overhit a cross from the right, only to see it curl wickedly as it neared the Derby goal, leaving Carson extremely relieved to see it go wide.
Carson was thanking his lucky stars again midway through the second period, when Power got his head to Stephen Warnock’s cross, only to see it come back off the bar with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Latics came close again when Wildschut advanced on the last defender, and tried to play in the supporting Grigg, only to be let down by a poor final ball.
Wildschut and Power saw further efforts deflected behind for corners, the former also forcing a decent save from Carson, before Le Fondre and Woolery entered the fray as Latics went all-in - sadly to no avail.