Substitute James McClean scored a superb brace as Latics came from behind to claim their first win away from home of the season, and the first win of any kind since September.
After dominating the first half, under-fire Latics looked to have squandered a great opportunity to shock the Sky Bet Championship just before the break when James Tavernier missed a penalty and a minute later Derby were ahead through John Eustace. It seemed typical of Latics luck of late.
But the team showed its desire after weathering a storm from the home side in the early part of the second half and McClean’s energy and endeavour after coming on was the catalyst to at last change dominance into goals, earning Latics a thoroughly deserved and long-sought after victory.
Uwe Rosler was forced into making changes after losing Ivan Ramis during Tuesday’s match with Millwall, and due to the continued absence of skipper Emmerson Boyce and the availability after injury of Emyr Huws and Don Cowie. Callum McManaman returned to the starting eleven while there was also a first start of the season for Roger Espinoza. Leon Barnett wore the armband for the first time as a Wigan Athletic player.
Rosler will have been encouraged by the start his side made, looking hungry for possession , and working hard all over the pitch to prevent The Rams from building up a head of steam and creating opportunities.
Their best came when Johnny Russell found space on the right but his curled effort was a foot wide of Scott Carson’s right hand post.
At the other end, Latics found the Derby defence a difficult nut to crack. Huws forced Jack Butland into an early save and the England Under 21 keeper had to be at his best to deny McManaman just after the half hour mark. Espinoza threaded a great ball through on the left side and Butland stretched out a foot to prevent to block the goal-bound drive.
The game was turned on its head just before the break in a crazy couple of minutes.
The referee pointed to the spot for a handball by Craig Bryson as Latics pressed in the Derby box, and it looked for the world as if luck was about to turn.
James Tavernier was the man given the task of taking the kick but he skewered it agonisingly wide of Butland’s right hand post. In the confusion that followed, Derby broke quickly, and forced a free-kick. Latics switched off momentarily and as Russell floated the ball to the far post, Zak Whitbread headed it back across goal and John Eustace tapped it past Carson. Agony for Latics – and a different type of team talk required in the second half.
Derby began the second half quickly, substitute Simon Dawkins almost making an immediate impact with a shot that whistled wide, before Bryson’s powerful effort was blocked on the edge of the box and another half-time substitute, Jack Hendrick, forced a good save from Carson from the edge of the box.
James McClean was introduced just after the hour mark, McManaman having taken a knock which prevented him from carrying on. It was he who set up Figueroa but it didn’t turn out to be a comeback classic and flew a yard over the bar.
And it was McClean who made the vital contribution on 68 minutes. Espinoza, who had worked tirelessly in the heart of the midfield, was found on the right by a Cowie, and managed to get behind his marker. He lifted his head and pulled the ball back perfectly for the onrushing McClean who smashed it home from near the penalty spot. Good, sharp finish – and it was the Latics fans who could be heard singing now.
Shaun Maloney replaced Huws for the final quarter of an hour and his free-kick almost led to a second goal for both Latics and McClean, an audacious backwards header on the edge of the box nearly deceiving Butland. Tavernier then broke into the box and fired inches wide of the far post as Latics looked the more likely of the two teams to score.
And it was McClean who provided the vital finish again, after 83 minutes. His persistence had led to a corner on the left, which was scrambled away for an immediate second by Butland. Tavernier swung in the second one, Derby cleared only as far as Forshaw, who drove in a great shot which Butland parried but with the ball still in play, Fortune reached it first, there was a scramble and McClean was able to scoop it home. Cue wild celebrations.
Espinoza then forced a brilliant save from Buckland from outside the box, which would have made the game safe, but hearts were in Latics mouths when Martin’s free-kick from outside the box was inches wide.
There were more bitten nails when five extra minutes were indicated but Latics held out and there were jubilant scenes at the final whistle.