Atdhe Nuhiu’s second half header saw Wigan Athletic slip to defeat by a single Sheffield Wednesday goal, despite seeing plenty of possession on a cold Tuesday evening at the DW Stadium.
Callum McManaman’s 69th minute red card for a dangerous challenge on Jeremy Helan proved to be the turning point in the game, at a point when Latics were turning up the heat on the visitors.
Malky Mackay opted to stick with the same formula from Boxing Day’s win at Leeds, starting with the same formation and making just one change to his line-up; bringing in Adam Forshaw in midfield for Don Cowie.
The confidence boost from Friday was clear to see from the offset, with Latics looking alert and dominating possession throughout the first half.
The bright start was spearheaded by James McClean, who followed up Friday’s fine performance with another tireless effort up top, putting opposition defenders under pressure at every opportunity.
However, for all of the dominance Latics showed in the opening twenty minutes, there was very little in the form of definitive chances - though Sheffield Wednesday were forced to deal with a flurry of crosses from both flanks.
The visitors began to grow into the contest, and were almost gifted the advantage in the 19th minute, when Jacques Maghoma capitalised on Rob Kiernan’s pass. The winger stormed down the right and fired past Scott Carson in the direction of Atdhe Nuhiu. The ball was at the mercy of the tall striker, only for Ivan Ramis to react first and hack the ball off the line.
Latics continued to see more of the ball, having 60% of the possession in the first interval, but almost fell behind under similar circumstances 15 minutes later, when Lewis McGugan capitalised on Ben Watson’s pass and fired an effort from distance, which took a deflection and fizzed just wide of the post.
Despite this, Wigan Athletic continued to otherwise look comfortable in possession and were at their most dangerous just before the end of the half; when McCann’s header towards the back post was leapt at by Marc-Antoine Fortune, who forced a nervous clearance from the Wednesday defence.
The second half began with a similar flavour, and again took around fifteen minutes to warm up. However, it was Latics who again were seeing more of the ball, and putting the visitors under constant pressure.
Latics soon built on their enthusiasm, and tested Kieren Westwood in the Wednesday goal on the hour mark, when McClean burst down the left and fizzed the ball at goal, requiring the keeper to push it out for a corner.
McClean’s effort began an encouraging period for Latics, who had the ball in the back of the net four minutes later from a free kick. The ball was whipped into the near post and met by a flurry of players, with James McClean poking it into the goal, only to be called offside.
Wigan were turning up the heat, and substitute Roger Espinoza almost had the perfect swansong moment in the 68th minute, when he just failed to get on the end of Callum McManaman’s dangerous cross; when any touch would have resulted in the opening goal.
McManaman was to become the villain just sixty seconds later however, when he saw red for a dangerous lunge on Claude Dielna. The card rules McManaman out of the FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the red card was to be telling, and the game swung dramatically in favour of Sheffield Wednesday, who after dominating possession, found the breakthrough thirteen minutes from time; when Atdhe Nuhiu got on the end of Jeremy Halen’s centre to head home from close range.
Wednesday almost sealed the points in the 83rd minute, when Scott Carson’s sliding challenge from outside the area fell to Chris Maguire, who lashed the ball wide with three players waiting on the line.
Latics kept on fighting however, and came agonisingly close to an equaliser five minutes from time through Shaun Maloney, when the substitute’s searching free kick from the left hand side was denied only by the post after Ramis' glancing header, before McClean fired over on the rebound.
There was enough time left for one final attack, when Andrew Taylor headed wide from a Tavernier cross, but Wednesday held on to take all three points back to Yorkshire.