- Wigan Athletic reduced the gap at the top of the table to four points with a hard-fought victory against League One strugglers AFC Wimbledon.
- Latics went ahead after 21 minutes, when substitute Tom Bayliss’ strike from 25- yards was parried by the Dons goalkeeper Nikola Tzanev and Will Keane converted from close range.
- The hosts had further opportunities to increase their lead but the visitors stayed in the game.
- With ten minutes remaining Latics were reduced to ten men when Max Power had to the leave field due to a hand injury and although the Dons pressed for a late equaliser Latics defence wasn’t to be breached.
- Latics are now four points behind leaders Rotherham with two games in hand and three points ahead of third place MK Dons with two games in hand. AFC Wimbledon are in 20th place in the table and two points above the drop zone.
Leam Richardson had to make changes to the starting line-up as Tendayi Darikwa, Graeme Shinnie and James McClean were all suspended. Curtis Tilt, Joe Bennett and Gwion Edwards all came into the starting line-up alongside Luton loanee Glen Rea who made his first league start
Latics went close early on when Power’s free-kick was drilled into the near post but his strike only found the side netting.
They had another good opportunity in the 18th minute when Bennett’s corner from the right was headed back across goal by Callum Lang to find Stephen Humphrys, but the former Rochdale striker’s effort from close range hit the crossbar.
But the hosts were ahead soon afterwards when Keane notched his 17th league goal of the season. Bayliss, who had come on as a substitute for the injured Rea, hit a low shot which was parried by Tzanev and Keane followed up to convert the rebound.
The Dons tried to respond and former Latic Sam Cosgrove tried his luck from 20 -yards but his effort was comfortably saved by keeper Ben Amos.
Latics almost doubled their lead around the half-hour mark when Bennett’s free-kick arrowed towards the top corner, but Tzanev did well to tip his effort over the crossbar.
Bennett then released Edwards down the left and his deep cross to the far post found Lang but his headed effort was denied by Tzanev.
The visitors were dangerous on the break however and Luke McCormick’s cross from the right was headed towards goal by Cosgrove but Jack Whatmough got a vital touch to divert his effort behind for a corner.
Just before the half time break Keane produced a bit of quality to lift the ball over his marker and send Lang in the clear but Tzanev did enough to put off the striker who was unable to make an effective contact with the ball.
Early in the second half the Dons had an opportunity when Paul Osew’s long throw fell to McCormick inside the penalty area but his effort on the turn was well parried away by Amos.
At the other end Edwards went close for the hosts when he linked up with Keane but his well struck effort was pushed around the post.
Bayliss was then presented with an opportunity from the edge of the box following a corner routine, but his effort unfortunately hit the back of Humphrys and looped over the crossbar
Latics’ next chance came when Humphrys chased down a long ball and set the ball back for Power to cross, but Edwards’ header at the far post was saved by Tzanev.
The visitors had a great opportunity to draw level with just six minutes remaining when Cosgrove rose highest to meet Lee Brown’s delivery but his header went over the crossbar.
Keane then nearly doubled Latics’ lead when his strike from 25-yards was well tipped over the crossbar by the Dons keeper.
Latics went down to ten men in the 90th minute when Power had to go off with a hand injury as his finger had come out of its socket.
Despite some late Dons pressure and five minutes of added time Latics held on for the vital three points.
Speaking afterwards Richardson said how was pleased he was to take the three points.
“It was very honest,” he said.
“We knew before the game that certain teams are at a certain period in the table and they are going to fight. We made a few changes today and I thought the lads coming in did exceptionally well.
“I thought towards the end, when we had to defend for 10-15 minutes and we were down to ten men, every single player didn’t leave anything out there to get that result. We knew it was going to be a challenge and one that we had to meet, but the pleasing thing is we got the three points and a clean sheet.”
The manager praised the fans for their influence in the victory.
“I think the fans recognised the energy on the pitch and once again, they lifted the players – you could see it filter through onto the pitch,” he said.
“The fans are so important and one of the most pleasing things today is that they (the fans) recognised that as well.
“The lads are working tirelessly hard, and there were some great performances against a good Wimbledon side who are coached very well, but our lads certainly deserved the result today.”
After the blip against Sunderland Latics have quickly got back on track for promotion with consecutive victories. Despite the many suspensions and injuries they have been able to maintain their momentum.
Every week is now a big week for Richardson’s men but their next league game will be a promotion six-pointer at third place MK Dons next Saturday.
Before that challenge they must overcome Sutton United in the Semi Final of the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night with the exciting prize of a Wembley final if they can be victorious.