Warren Joyce’s decision to play Yanic Wildschut as the lone striker ultimately proved costly as Wigan Athletic slipped to a 1-0 home defeat to Derby County.
Bradley Johnson put Derby in front when he headed home Tom Ince’s free-kick on 16 minutes, although he did appear to foul Shaun MacDonald when going up for the header.
Johnny Russell might have doubled the lead when he picked up a poor backpass from Luke Garbutt, but Jussi Jaaskelainen came to the rescue by tipping his shot onto the post.
Joyce’s 4-5-1 formation had proved effective in the last two away fixtures but was found wanting in the first half as Wildschut was left isolated and Latics rarely threatened Derby keeper Scott Carson’s goal.
Latics were much improved in the second half as more players were pushed forward and striker Will Grigg was thrown into the fray. Their best chance of an equaliser came when Max Power’s header smacked against the crossbar.
Derby survived the second half onslaught and moved to within two points of the play-offs while Latics drop down to second-bottom in the table.
Wigan made two changes to the side which had won at Huddersfield with Craig Morgan and Jordi Gomez coming in for the injured Reece Burke and Nathan Byrne.
After a tentative opening period by both teams, Derby were the first to threaten when Matej Vydra nearly got on the end of Russell’s dangerous cross.
But on 16 minutes the visitors went ahead following Ince’s free-kick which was headed home by Johnson. MacDonald appeared to be fouled by Johnson but referee Andy Madley waved away all appeals.
Latics were now looking vulnerable and Derby might have doubled their lead when Russell saw his effort hit the post.
The former Dundee United player broke into the area, rounded Jaaskelainen and his shot looked destined for the net until the keeper recovered and tipped the ball onto the post before smothering the rebound.
Latics rarely troubled Carson in the first half but Power did have one effort which had the keeper at full stretch when he tried his luck from 25-yards-out.
The home team would have to change their approach if they were going to score and they certainly started the second half with great gusto.
The first opportunity came in the opening few minutes of the half when a corner from the left resulted in a goalmouth scramble.
Both Shaun McDonald and Craig Morgan tried to get a shot in but Derby somehow cleared the danger.
Joyce introduced Grigg for Gomez on 60 minutes and Latics looked invigorated by the change.The extra forward was making a difference and now more opportunities were being created.
Latics nearly levelled when Garbutt’s long range cross from the right evaded Carson and was just inches wide of the net.
Wildschut was now taking up a wide role and his pace down the flank was causing Derby problems. On 67 minutes he linked up well with Grigg and burst into the area before unleashing a shot which Carson did well to push away for a corner.
Pressure was mounting on the Derby defence and Latics had a great chance to level on 69 minutes when Power saw his close range header hit the crossbar after meeting Stephen Warnock’s excellent cross from the left.
Garbutt then saw his dangerous cross kicked off the line by Alex Pearce but Derby somehow held out for the three points.
The final result was harsh on Latics as they had dominated the second half and they probably deserved to get at least a point from the game.
Warren Joyce will probably be kicking himself that he did not start with a more attacking formation and push Derby back from the kick off. With Grigg on the pitch Latics posed a much greater threat and it is now surely time for the striker to return to the starting line-up.