It was a difficult day for everybody at Wigan Athletic as the new manager Malky Mackay took his first game in charge against Middlesbrough. The furore about his appointment and Dave Whelan’s subsequent controversial comments meant that there was a huge amount of media attention focused on the club prior to kick off.
Mackay and Whelan were well received by the Latics faithful and the club Chairman was tearful when he received a rousing round of applause from the supporters before the game.
Wigan produced a much improved performance under Mackay. Shaun Maloney’s superb free-kick put Wigan in control after 24 minutes, but Middlesbrough substitute Patrick Bamford drew them level on 58 minutes. Both teams had chances to win it, but the game ended in stalemate.
Mackay made four changes from the team that lost at Bolton, with Ivan Ramis, Andrew Taylor, Chris McCann and Emmerson Boyce coming in for Perch, Kiernan, Figueroa and Huws.
Chris McCann was making his first start in eight months after returning from a long-term injury sustained in March, and the Irish midfielder made a significant impact in the early stages. His attacking runs with the ball resulted in a series of free-kicks on the edge of the Boro box.
Maloney’s first free-kick beat Boro keeper Dimitrios Konstantpoulos but skimmed the top of the crossbar and away to safety.
Wigan continued to press forward, with first Marc-Antoine Fortune and then Emmerson Boyce firing wide of the Boro goal.
They went ahead on 24 minutes following a superb 25 yard free-kick by Maloney. The Scottish international found himself in a similar position to his first free-kick, and the midfielder curled the ball over the wall and into the top left hand corner past a helpless Konstantpoulos.
Latics were now on top and looking likely to add to their lead, although Kike’s effort at the end of the first-half nearly drew Boro level.
Wigan might have doubled their lead on the stroke of half time, when Maloney’s cross from a free-kick was punched away by the keeper to Adam Forshaw on the edge of the area, but he volleyed just inches wide of the left hand post.
Latics had further chances at the beginning of the second period, with first Leon Barnett and then Fortune miss-kicking their efforts in front of goal.
Realising his team were lacking a cutting edge, Boro boss Aitor Karanka replaced Adam Reach with Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford. The substitution had an immediate impact when the striker had a neat interchange with Kike on the edge of the box, and then evaded the attention of Ivan Ramis, before side footing home from close range to draw Boro level.
As both teams pressed for the winner Chris McCann’s effort cleared the crossbar for Wigan, before Bamford had a chance for Boro following George Friend’s dangerous cross.
Middlesbrough had a couple of unconvincing appeals for penalties as the game moved towards the final whistle, but the best chance of the final quarter of the game fell to Leon Barnett. Following Maloney’s corner, the big defender was left unmarked but disappointingly volleyed the ball against the post from close range.
Given all the off the field dramas this week, the Latics players should be pleased with their work. Boro are one of the best teams to come to the DW Stadium so far this season. On this display Aitor Karanka’s team are well organised, have quality in-depth and are likely to be in the promotion shake up at the end of the season.
The draw left Wigan still in the bottom three of the table but they can take great heart from the performance. It was evident that new manager Mackay had already galvanised the players into a more combative unit. The welcome return of Chris McCann along with a return to form of Shaun Maloney make the prospect of a rise up the table much more likely.