- Wigan Athletic secured a vital victory in their fight against relegation from the Championship with a 1-0 win against fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town.
- In a game of few chances it was the visitors who looked the more threatening in the first half but the hosts improved in the second half.
- After a period of late Latics pressure, Jack Whatmough’s 82nd minute header from a corner made the difference as they moved away from the bottom of the table.
- Latics are now in 22nd place in the Championship table and one point from safety while Huddersfield are in 23rd place.
Maloney made two changes for his first home game in charge of the Tics, with Ryan Nyambe and Charlie Hughes coming into the starting line-up in place of Martin Kelly and Omar Rekik who both missed out through injury.
Maloney changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Hughes alongside Whatmough in the centre of defence, with Ryan Nyambe at left back and Tendayi Darikwa at right back.
In a tense opening period it was the visitors who threatened first when in the 21st minute Watford loanee Joseph Hungbo broke into the penalty area and shot from a tight angle, but Ben Amos made a superb one-handed save to deny him.
Latics responded soon afterwards when Whatmough met James McClean’s cross with an acrobatic overhead kick which was narrowly wide of the post.
The Terriers then had two opportunities in quick succession, first Fulham loanee Anthony Knockaert tried his luck from 20 yards out, but fortunately for Latics his strike was just wide of the post.
Hungbo then curled a free-kick towards goal from 20 yards out, but Amos got down low to make a good save.
It had been a closely fought first half with the Terriers looking the most likely to break the deadlock.
The visitors continued to threaten at the beginning of the second half with Tom Lees having an effort deflected wide of the post.
Latics needed to up their game and Maloney made a double substitution on 59 minutes with Tom Pearce and Ashley Fletcher replacing Captain Darikwa and Norwich loanee Danel Sinani.
The two changes seemed to have the desired effect and Latics created an opportunity after a free-flowing move. Nyambe delivered a dangerous low cross from the right-hand side, but it was well defended by Lees before it could reach Callum Lang in the box.
Latics then had a shout for a penalty when Lang’s knock-down struck the hand of a Town defender, but referee Gavin Ward waved away the appeals.
Latics now started to dominate and soon after Pearce’s dangerous cross caused all sorts of problems, Fletcher saw his header from McClean’s corner go over the crossbar.
The hosts got the vital breakthrough in the 82nd minute when McClean’s deep corner found Whatmough at the back post and the central defender powered his header into the back of the net.
The sense of relief from the Latics fans was palpable. It was now a case of ensuring that they now saw out the remaining minutes to gain the crucial three points.
They did manage to see out the remaining minutes relatively untroubled and their was a huge roar at full time as Latics moved off the bottom of the table.
This was Latics first win since November 12th last year and was crucial to their survival chances.
Maloney’s men had defended resolutely throughout but they had offered a limited threat going forward until Whatmough stepped up with the late winner.
Whatmough produced a man of the match performance and his goal topped off an excellent day for last season’s player of the year. Charlie Hughes also did extremely well in defence after the injuries to Martin Kelly and Omar Rekik and deserves to retain his place in the team against Bristol City in midweek.
Latics have not conceded in the two games with Maloney in charge but they will need to be at their best against an in-form Bristol City. They will also need to be better at the top end of the pitch as they were relatively limited going forward.
It’s most definitely a work in progress for Maloney but there is now a renewed optimism around the club.
Roberto Martinez’s teams pulled off some great escapes during his time in charge and there’s no doubt that Maloney has been greatly influenced by him, and if he can keep Latics in the Championship he will also have achieved something very remarkable.
Post match comments
Speaking afterwards Maloney was quick to express his delight after his side recorded a crucial victory over the Terriers.
The new manager was channeling Martinez’s calmness when he spoke to the media.
He wasn’t getting carried away after an important victory against a relegation rival. He’s clearly learned a lot from his time with the former Latics and now Portugal manager.
There’s still a big task ahead but the vibe he is creating is very encouraging.
“It was a big three points,” he said.
“Before the game, I tried to give the players a lot of calm feelings, because there’s been a lot of talk about this being one of the biggest games of the season.
“I didn’t quite see it like that because we’ve got another 16 games to go, but it felt like a big result in the end.
“I’m really happy for the players, and the support because they definitely stuck together today.
“They (Huddersfield Town) had periods in the first half where they had more possession, but they didn’t create so much.
“We also had moments in the second half without creating enough, but I thought we finished very strong and the momentum was with us, and that comes from the players and support.
“I think there were moments where we got in good positions during the first half, and didn’t quite have that last touch or pass.
“The lads have been through a very tough period during the last 16 games, and hopefully now with each point and win, we can get more confident and they can show the talent that they have.”
Maloney commented on the positive influence of the fans that can never be understated.
“I cannot underestimate the good feelings they’ve gave not just me but the players. I know there are moments where the game isn’t as fluent, but in fairness to the fans, they stuck with us. I really appreciate them and it makes a world of difference.”
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