Ten man Latics battled to a hard-fought draw against early pace setters Walsall, in an entertaining goalless draw at the DW Stadium.
Latics had the better of an open game in the first half, and continued to look bright in the opening quarter of an hour of the second period, with Will Grigg coming closest to a goal just after the hour mark against the division’s best defence.
However, Craig Morgan’s red card twenty-two minutes from time changed the complexion of the game, and Latics were made to work hard to keep their unbeaten home record intact.
Latics boss Gary Caldwell made three changes to the side which bagged a dramatic late equaliser against Millwall on Tuesday night. Club captain Craig Morgan and Tuesday’s goalscorer Will Grigg was brought back into the starting eleven in place of Sean Murray and Tim Chow.
Jussi Jaaskelainen was brought in for his debut in goal, in place of Richard O’Donnell, who missed out on facing his former club.
The changes prompted an interesting tactical shift for Latics, with the hosts operating with a back four, and two up top in the form of Will Grigg and Jordy Hiwula.
Walsall came in to the game second in the table, and the visitors showed why they were the early pace setters in League One throughout the first half, matching Latics possession wise, and putting together some dangerous looking phases of possession.
Kieron Morris caught the eye for the visitors throughout the game, and the midfielder carved out the first chance of the game on five minutes, when he forced a good save from debutant Jaaskelainen with a low effort from range.
Latics responded, and produced a chance of their own three minutes later through Donervon Daniels, who capitalised on good work by Reece James to have an effort on the right hand side of the area, which was blocked by a man in red.
Jordy Hiwula was looking bright again up top, and went close on the quarter of an hour mark, when he latched on to Michael Jacobs’ corner from the right and blasted the ball over from close range.
The game continued to be open throughout the first half, but the strong form records of both sides were showing, with both seeming to cancel each other out.
Latics were just shading it possession wise, but were struggling to muster a serious attempt on goal against a resilient defence, as half time began to loom.
Michael Jacobs continued to look dangerous, and threatened with a free-kick that went straight into the wall on the half hour mark, but both sides continued to cancel each other out up until the interval.
Gary Caldwell responded to Latics frustration in front of goal by introducing new signing Yanic Wildschut in place of Jordy Hiwula at half time.
The move seemed to pay immediate dividends, with the Middlesbrough man looking lively for Latics from the offset.
Latics again started the second half well, and went close within the first minute through Donervon Daniels, who broke down the right and pinged in a low cross towards Grigg – which was just cut out by Neil Etheridge.
Caldwell’s men then burst down the left 60 seconds later through Grigg, who fired the trigger and saw his low effort fizz narrowly wide of the far post.
Wildschut soon got involved himself, and was released into the area by Jacobs two minutes after that, but saw his effort blocked by the charging Etheridge. The loan man switched flanks a minute later and threatened again, beating two players with a brilliant piece of skill before seeing his shot blocked.
Walsall responded and soon settled into the half themselves, with Kieron Morris shooting narrowly wide of the far post just four minutes before the hour mark.
Latics continued to look more dangerous however, and everyone in the ground – including Will Grigg – were baffled as to how the frontman was unable to put his side into the lead on 64 minutes, when he twice missed the chance to tuck the ball home from close range.
The first cross came from Wildschut down the left, with Grigg getting a touch on the ball, which somehow saw it flash across the goal. The ball remained in play, and was thumped towards the back post by Daniels, which somehow Grigg missed.
The game was turned on its head just four minutes later however, when club captain Craig Morgan was harshly dismissed for bringing down Kieron Morris in a Walsall break.
The midfielder scurried to the edge of the area and was brought down by Morgan, who was judged to be the last man by the referee, despite Leon Barnett looking like he was closing the down on the man in red.
Suddenly Walsall were in the ascendancy, and the visitors pressed until the end of the contest to find a winner.
Gary Caldwell responded, and introduced full-back Donald Love for his professional debut, who came on to replace Will Grigg, and give Latics some extra stability at the back.
Wildschut was therefore left as the only forward-thinking player on the pitch, as Latics concentrated on maintaining their unbeaten home record.
Walsall were dominating, but were struggling to carve out a definitive chance with the man advantage – though Morris stung the hands of Jaaskelainen with a long range effort fifteen minutes from time.
Latics were holding firm, but their nerves were tested with just two minutes on the clock when the ball fell to Jordan Cook into the area after a sustained period of Walsall possession, but the forward blasted over from close range on the left hand side of the area.
Caldwell’s men continued to stand firm, and held on to record a creditable point that kept their unbeaten home record intact.