Conor McAleny’s goal midway through the second half earned Wigan Athletic a hard fought three points against a gritty Rochdale side, who played for an hour with ten men.
Latics weren’t at their best in an open contest, but Caldwell’s men continued to push the visitors, and their persistence eventually paid off 23 minutes from time - when McAleny’s doggedly poked the ball home from close range after a goal-mouth scramble.
The result means that Latics are still unbeaten in 2016, stretching their run without a loss to a whopping 18 games. In terms of the table, Caldwell’s men are now just one point behind leaders Burton Albion – who travel to Millwall tonight.
Latics boss Gary Caldwell made two changes to the side which won emphatically at Swindon Town on Good Friday, with Jason Pearce and Ryan Colclough returning to the side in place of Donervon Daniels and Chris McCann. The game also saw a return to the bench for Conor McAleny, after being out through injury.
The confidence in the Latics side was clear to see after their big win at Swindon on Friday night, and the hosts started brightly, with Yanic Wildschut again causing trouble down the left hand side.
Rochdale have enjoyed a good run of late themselves however, and also started the contest brightly, leading to a wide open game throughout.
Both sides were moving the ball around well, but it was Latics who had the first real chance of the game on 12 minutes through Yanic Wildschut – who made a big claim for a penalty.
The winger met Reece Wabara’s cross from the right hand side and saw his effort blocked by what looked like a visiting hand, but the referee was unmoved and waved play on.
The visitors were looking lively themselves however, and went close on 24 minutes through Nathanial Mendez-Laing. The winger broke down the left hand side, and it took some good defending from Jason Pearce to track him and block his effort on the edge of the area.
The game continued to be even, but took a big turning point on 33 minutes, when Ian Henderson was given a straight red card. The forward was on the receiving end of a challenge from Jason Pearce, and appeared to kick out at the defender.
Latics soon took control, and had another shout for a penalty six minutes from the interval through Wildschut yet again, who turned Eastham inside out and saw his effort blocked by what looked like a hand inside the area.
The hosts continued to push before the interval, and created their best chance seconds before the whistle through Will Grigg, who just failed to meet Perkins’ dangerous cross at point blank range.
The interval saw the introduction of Conor McAleny, who was brought on in place of Ryan Colclough.
Caldwell’s men continued their domination throughout the second half, but were met by a resolute Rochdale defence, who were digging in well after being reduced to ten men.
The gaffer soon took action, and made a very attacking change on 55 minutes, introducing Haris Vuckic in place of defender Jason Pearce.
Vuckic was straight into the action, and produced a clever back-heel to release Max Power inside the area, but the midfielder hit his effort straight at Josh Lillis and the keeper was able to save.
Latics continued to push, and the breakthrough eventually game 23 minutes from time through McAleny, who got on the end of a goalmouth scramble to force the ball home.
The move started through Yanic Wildschut, who turned into space in the area and saw his effort loop on to the crossbar. Carnage soon ensued, with Vuckic and Grigg both going for the ball, before McAleny popped up to force it home from 6 yards.
Despite the goal, the game was far from over, and Rochdale showed why they are right in the chase for the play-off places with a dogged display, in which they continued to push for a goal themselves.
Their second half attack was spearheaded by substitute Grant Holt, who looked lively up top on his return to the DW Stadium – showing some good strength to win a number of set pieces for his side.
Latics were restricted to hitting the visitors on the break, but went close on numerous occasions late on themselves, with the best chance falling to McAleny six minutes from time.
The forward was released onto the right hand side of the area by a clever ball from Power, and hit an effort from a tight angle which forced Lillis into a smart stop.
The visitors wouldn’t give up however, and ensured it would be a nervy finish for Latics, with substitutes Vicenti and Holt both having half chances.
Latics really had to dig in, but fulfilled the cliché of winning without playing particularly well to see out the contest, and earn another crucial three points to keep the dream of the League One title alive.