Latics recovered from a devastating blow inside the first minute to dominate the game but were not able to take advantage of a succession of chances to get back into the game, with Brighton 18 year-old goalkeeper and man of the match Christian Walton making a string of breath-taking saves to keep out Uwe Rosler’s men.
Latics dwarfed their opponents in terms of possession and chances after a difficult start but it ended up as hugely frustrating night for Latics, who continued to battle until the very last seconds but could just not find a way through the Albion defence.
One huge positive for Latics, however, was the return of Chris McCann as a late substitute after eight months out with a shattered knee-cap.
With the long trip to the Amex and the derby at Bolton in mind, Uwe Rosler said he would have to make use of the squad this week – and so it proved, with four changes here from the starting line-up against Fulham, along with a welcome first inclusion of the season on the bench of both McCann and Ben Watson following their long rehabilitation from injury. The suspended Leon Barnett, along with Marc Antoine Fortune and Emyr Huws were left at home, while James McClean, Martyn Waghorn, Shaun Maloney and James Perch returned to the side. Callum McManaman dropped down to the bench.
Catastrophe struck for Latics inside the first minute as Elliot Bennett broke down the right hand side and crossed, there was a scramble on the edge of the box and the ball fell to Gary Gardner who struck it low past the helpless Scott Carson. A crushing early blow.
Latics maintained their composure but were not able to put any serious pressure on goal and Brighton came close again on 16 minutes. Kazenga LuaLua broke down the left this time, pulled the ball back for Joao Texeira just inside the box and his side-footed effort came back off the underside of Carson’s crossbar and after a scramble the ball was eventually cleared.
It took Latics twenty minutes to find their stride but once they did they dominated virtually the rest of the match and will be scratching their head as to how the game ended goal free from their point of view.
The first real effort came following a good move down the left that ended with a curling cross from Roger Espinoza being met with a diving header from Martyn Waghorn on the penalty spot. The ball looped over Christian Walton in the Albion goal but skewered just wide. The Espibnoza-Waghorn connection threatened again soon after, Walton this time having to get down low to smother a shot on the turn, before Waghorn had a third opportunity in quick succession, flicking on James Tavernier’s cross from the right but Walton saved again. Waghorn then spun and shot following Espinoza’s clever chest down in the box but the ball flew over the crossbar this time.
Waghorn was in the thick of it again when he was brought down on the edge of the box by Inigo Calderon, Tavernier struck the free-kick but Walton dived to his right to save the effort. Latics threatened again when Espinoza sent McClean bounding into the box, he fed Waghorn on the right and the cross was scrambled clear.
Latics begun the second half as they finished the first, in complete control. Rob Kiernan flicked on Tavernier’s early corner but Albion cleared the danger under pressure from three yellow shirts. The home side came back and Kiernan was on hand to make a great block at the other end from Texeira but then Walton made two tremendous reflex saves in quick succession as Latics broke, first from Waghorn inside a crowded area, then moments later from Adam Forshaw’s rasping drive.
Tavernier’s tremendous cross was then missed as it fizzed into the box and McClean failed to connect properly at the far post. Seconds later Maloney ghosted past two defenders to set up Waghorn but Walton saved brilliantly, before Maloney’s long-range effort whistled just wide of the Brighton keeper’s upright. Espinoza then had a go from outside the box, but the effort was well over.
Another Tavernier corner was fizzed in following good work on the right, but McClean’s near post header hit Joe Bennett. Espinoza was able to fashion another effort from outside the box, which curled narrowly wide.
McManaman replaced McClean on 67 minutes, followed by Oriol Riera coming on for Cowie five minutes later. Could they provide the magic missing ingredient in front of goal?
Alas not, as Latics continued to press without success.
McCann made his return to the Latics team when he replaced Forshaw on 83 minutes, as Latics continued to chase that elusive equaliser. Latics had a penalty claim turned down as Lewis Dunk appeared to handball inside the box before Riera struck yet another effort wide.
The announcement of five additional minutes was another spur for the yellow shirts as Brighton tried to run the clock down but Waghorn won a free-kick 22 yards from goal, Maloney scooping the final chance of the night a yard over.
Mention must be made for the 161 Latics fans who made the long journey South on a Tuesday night – unfortunately for them, and everyone connected with the club, the match ended in disappointment.