Latics suffered their first home defeat under Uwe Rosler as Millwall ran out 1-0 winners at the DW Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Carlos Edwards’ first-half goal inflicted a first home defeat of the calendar year on Latics who struggled to break down a resolute Lions side.
Rosler made eight changes to the Latics side that defeated Leeds United 1-0 on Saturday with goal-scorer Martyn Waghorn, captain Emmerson Boyce and Rob Kiernan retaining their place ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup with Budweiser semi-finals.
Shaun Maloney returned to the starting line-up for the first time in four months whilst Jean Beausejour returned from his two-match suspension.
Ian Holloway’s Millwall were unchanged from their 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest with Ryan Fredericks replacing Nadjim Abdou on the bench.
The Lions had an early opportunity to open the scoring as James McClean tripped Lee Martin on the edge of the area to give the visitors an early free-kick which Owen Garvan fired narrowly over.
Maloney was busy throughout the early stages and looked up for it with the Scottish international going close to opening the scoring as he broke into the area before seeing his shot blocked by Scott Malone with Boyce firing the rebound over.
Martyn Woolford had a glorious chance to open the scoring for Millwall though he headed Martin’s cross straight at Scott Carson in the Latics goal when well-placed six yards out.
Two minutes later and the visitors were ahead as Edwards broke from right-back and saw his shot from 20 yards deflect off Leon Barnett to loop over Carson and leave the former Liverpool stopper stranded.
Martin was a threat all game and he curled just over Carson’s bar from the corner of the area as the Lions searched for a second.
McClean fired over after being set by Collison on the edge of the area as Latics looked for an equaliser against the energetic visitors.
Waghorn was the next to go close for Latics as the half hour approached with the former Sunderland man heading McClean’s deep cross wide at the back post.
It was Waghorn who tried to instigate a spark into Latics’ first-half performance as he crossed for Maynard whose tame volley trickled wide of David Forde’s right-hand post.
Cardiff loanee Maynard nearly worked a glorious opening five minutes before the break but, after dispossessing Alan Dunne, he fired high and wide when the option to square it to Jack Collison may have been better.
McClean failed to make a good connection with Boyce’s good cross as Latics finished the half strongly.
Latics’ best opportunity of the first-half came in the final minute as Waghorn’s free-kick came out to Collison who was denied by a scrambling low save from Forde before Boyce couldn’t quite hook the rebound home.
The hosts started the second-half with a much stronger intensity as substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune headed narrowly wide from Collison’s cross after a sustained spell of pressure.
Republic of Ireland international McClean looked much livelier after the break and, after beating two Millwall defenders, he fired just over from 25 yards as Latics continued to push for an equaliser.
It was all Latics as the second-half wore on and substitute Nick Powell had two glorious chances to level in the space of a minute as the hour mark passed. First the Manchester United loanee saw his shot deflected over when James McArthur’s cross fell kindly into his path before he blasted high and wide from Maloney’s cut-back a minute later.
Latics probed and probed for a leveller and Collison, who is on loan at the DW Stadium from Millwall’s fierce rivals West Ham United, was presented with a golden chance to bag his first Latics goal, though he curled wide when well positioned from Beausejour’s cut-back.
The visitors, who rarely ventured forward in the second-half, had a glorious chance to double their advantage as Steve Morison and Woolford were both denied by Carson at close range after the stopper had initially parried Martin’s shot into the former’s path.
Fortune was unlucky not to level in injury time as he did well to meet Maloney’s cross before firing straight at Forde in the Lions’ goal.