Malky Mackay’s men suffered a further Sky Bet Championship setback after Clayton Donaldson’s hat-trick sealed the points for Birmingham City at St Andrews, despite James McClean’s first half stunner sparking a Latics revival either side of the break.
Two early goals had threatened to see Birmingham completely run away with it in an explosive opening half an hour, then mounting up a series of great chances on top of the goals with Latics seemingly unable to respond.
But just as it seemed there was no way back, an amazing effort from James McClean looked to have turned the game around. Latics were a transformed side for the opening 20 minutes of the second half, it seemed only a matter of time before they equalized, before Donaldson’s killer third against the run of play effectively ended the contest.
Mackay made four changes from last week’s FA Cup defeat at Bolton. Scott Carson was back in goal while former Birmingham defender Liam Ridgewell went straight in to the side to make his Latics debut. Shaun Maloney and Don Cowie were the other changes. Australia-bound Ali Al Habsi, James Tavernier, Marc Antoine Fortune and Ben Watson were the others to miss out.
In a catastrophic start, a deep cross from former Latics’ winger David Cotterill wide on the right reached Donaldson at the far post, his header from five yards beat Carson and went in off the inside of the post. Just 69 seconds gone.
Latics were stunned and Chris McCann was forced to pull down Demarai Gray as he raced toward the box, forcing the referee to brandish an early yellow card. Cotterill’s free kick from 25 yards went wide of Carson’s right hand post. Then Donaldson received the ball to the left of goal, the flag stayed down and he smashed his shot a yard wide of the other post. And still just 10 minutes gone.
Things got worse in the 14th minute as Andy Shinnie turned swiftly in the box and shot across goal, Carson may have got the slightest touch to divert it onto the post, but the ball rebounded along the goal line and Donaldson was first to pounce. 2-0 and it seemed it was game over as the blue tide continued to wash in.
Two minutes later and Shinnie went down in the box under a challenge by Adam Forshaw, the referee waved away Birmingham’s loud appeal for a penalty. Donaldson was then a whisker away from connecting with Paul Caddis’ cross at the far post. The former Brentford striker had another chance shortly afterwards, rounding Carson but Ridgewell cleared off the line. 25 minutes gone and things looked bleak.
But Latics then managed to mount a response. McClean forged a path through a packed defence, then played a neat one-two with Shaun Maloney before Blues scrambled it clear. Andrew Taylor’s follow-up was cleared.
Ben Watson replaced Cowie after 30 minutes before McClean scored his sensational goal on 36 minutes.
He drove down the right side, cut in to his favoured left foot, dropped a shoulder to beat his marker, and unleashed a fantastic curling shot in off the post from the edge of the box which Darren Randolph at full stretch was unable to reach.
McClean shot again from distance shortly afterwards and Latics finished the half as the dominant force. It seemed the tide had turned.
Martyn Waghorn replaced Ridgewell for the second half as Latics reverted to a back four and continued where they had left off before the break, diving into tackles, with quick incisive passes and efforts peppering the Birmingham goal.
James Perch drove in a dangerous cross, then McClean picked up Waghorn’s flick to drive into the box. He then forced Randolph into a full stretch save, the resulting corner seeing Ivan Ramis narrowly head over.
Two defenders had to then unceremoniously bring the Irishman down on the edge of the box but nothing was given.
Waghorn saw a shot deflected for a corner, and again Ramis was there but his header was just wide. Maloney powered in a 25 yarder that Randolph had to palm away for another corner.
Surely the equaliser was only a matter of time? Alas, football showed how cruel it can be and just as it looked for the world as if Latics would equalise, Birmingham broke away, the ball fell to Donaldson inside the box and he bundled it home for his hat-trick.
A real blow. Ramis was replaced by the returning Leon Barnett in what looked to be enforced change. Latics continued to attack, a good move eventually seeing McClean scuff an effort wide, and then Waghorn curled a shot just beyond Randolph’s far post. But the third goal really took the sting out of the game for Latics and the result was never really in doubt thereafter.