Michael Jacobs’ early strike was enough to earn a precious draw against second placed Burton Albion as Latics maintained their three point advantage at the top of Sky Bet League One, six clear of third placed Walsall.
In a tense match when the home side threw everything at Gary Caldwell’s men in the second half, this was a match where Latics’ guts and commitment in the face of huge pressure came to the fore, and it was a point which could prove absolutely crucial over the next few weeks.
The second half was agony for the huge Latics following packed into the Pirelli, and the three sold beam back screening at the DW Stadium. Try as they might, Burton prevented Latics from getting any sort of rhythm – and they should be credited for that – but there are many different aspects of a successful side, and as Caldwell’s team showed at Millwall last month, sometimes, you just have to scrap.
Gary Caldwell rung the changes after the defeat at Doncaster, making four changes. The enforced absence of David Perkins opened one place, but Caldwell also replaced Donervon Daniels, Leon Barnett and Yanic Wildschut with Jacobs coming in for his first start in 15 matches, along with Reece Wabara, Chris McCann and the returning captain, Craig Morgan.
Latics dominated large parts of the first half, but having gone ahead and looking in control, were pegged back before the break.
Latics opened the scoring with their first meaningful attack of the match, with just seven minutes played. Jacobs picked up the ball on the right hand touchline, cut inside and curled the ball around Jon McLaughlin’s far post with the keeper at full stretch . Will Grigg looked ready to pounce had the keeper got a touch but in the event the ball nestled neatly into the far corner.
Latics had chances to extend their lead, the closest when McAleny swivelled in the box and shot inches wide, but Burton equalised in the 37th minute. Matty Palmer floated in a free-kick from the left and Tom Naylor climbed at the far post to head the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen from close range.
Burton put Latics under pressure from the restart and they were forced to defend resolutely. Caldwell responded by replacing McAleny with Wildschut in the 60th minute – could the Dutch master bring his class to bear upon proceedings?
The short answer was no, the game had developed into a scrappy affair of misplaced passes and commitment dominating quality, with no real fluency from either team. Cue another change from Caldwell, bringing on Haris Vuckic for Jacobs in the 70th minute. Could the Slovenian make the difference?
Again, the answer was no and instead it was Albion who built up a head of steam, putting Latics under pressure in midfield and forcing mistakes.
At last Latics were able to at least mount an attack, Vuckic having a shot blocked before the ball fell to Grigg, who swivelled but the shot was wide.
Caldwell’s final change came when Daniels replaced Wabara with five minutes remaining as Latics looked to shore things up in the closing stages.
Both sides went close. Duffy headed over in the 88th minute, then McCann met Wildschut’s pass in the 90th minute but wasn’t able to control it and the ball flew over. A flurry of late opportunities to deliver into the box provided Latics with hope of a winner, but Burton stood strong in stoppage time to see out Vuckic's free kick. A point earned for each as it remained as you were at the top of Sky Bet League One.