Wigan Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 1
BORO had to come from behind to take a hard-earned point this afternoon. Writes GORDON COX from the DW Stadium.
George Friend made his 100th appearance in a Boro shirt in a line-up that showed three changes from the Bournemouth game.
Emilio Nsue was preferred at right-back as Ryan Fredericks dropped to the bench, Albert Adomah and Kike returned as Yanic Wildschut and Patrick Bamford also started among the subs.
Malky Mackay’s first team selection included Boro Academy graduate Andrew Taylor who played with the Scot when he was at Watford and Cardiff.
Boro’s near 5,000-strong travelling support had survived a difficult journey to get here with travel problems on three of the surrounding motorways leading to an marked increase of traffic through an already crowded town centre.
Despite that, they were in good spirits, determined to make more noise than the PA system that was blasting out a Northern Soul medley.
There was a warm welcome from the Wigan fans for a clearly emotional Dave Whelan as he took his seat in the Directors’ Box just a few feet from Steve Gibson. With tears in his eyes, overcome with the welcome he received, Mr Whelan courteously made his way to the Boro side of the box to shake hands with the visitors.
While this was happening Mackay, to loud applause from the fans, emerged from the tunnel.
He watched his team defend for the first few minutes as Boro looked for an early breakthrough. Two corners in 90 seconds failed to reap any reward and the home side settled.
They were inches away from taking the lead when Shaun Maloney, fresh from international duty with Scotland, grazed the crossbar with a free-kick from the D after Daniel Ayala had brought down Chris McCann.
It was an evenly-contested affair in the opening 20 minutes, though Wigan were beginning to see more of the ball than their visitors. That said they opened the scoring on 24 minutes when breaking quickly from a Boro attack.
Adam Reach peeled away down the left but couldn’t deliver the telling pass h was looking for and off went Wigan at pace through the middle. The move ended when Adam Clayton brought down McCann 22 yards from goal and received the game’s first yellow card. It was his fifth of the season and he is now suspended for the game against Blackburn at the Riverside next week.
Shaun Maloney had had a range-finder a few minutes earlier, this time he curled a beautiful delivery beyond the reach of Dimi Konstantopoulos.
Boro’s response was mentally good, but ineffective. Reach danced his way into the Latics’ penalty area but changed his mind when shaping to shoot and the chance was lost. Then Kike, approaching half-time, took a good position inside the box, could have shot first time but turned well to wrong-foot everyone and curl just wide of Scott Carson’s right-hand post.
Half-time Wigan Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 0
The general consensus among the Wigan fans at half-time was that this had been one of their better performances here this season and certainly one of the best atmospheres.
There was a lively start to the second half with Wigan pressing for a second to take control of the game.
They wasted a good opportunity to do just that when Marc-Antoine Fortune blasted over from close range. It proved to be a costly miss.
Just 11 minutes into the half Aitor Karanka made a change as Reach was replaced by Patrick Bamford. Around 90 seconds later he made a good run to get on the end of a well-weighted pass from Kike and brought Boro level with a well taken low shot to Carson’s left.
There was almost an immediate response but Leon Barnett’s shot came back off Konstantopoulos’s left-hand post.
Minutes later Emmerson Boyce wasted a similar chance as h pounced on a poor clearance from Ayala and shot over the bar from 11 yards.
Karanka made a second change not long after as Fredericks replaced Nsue at the same time as James McClean was sent on for Wigan.
The home side continued to have the better of the chances, but a surging run down the left from George Friend ended with a low cross into the area to Bamford who was stretching as he shot just wide.
Entering four minutes of injury-time Boro won a free-kick right on the right-hand angle of the penalty area when Adomah was fouled. Tomlin thought he had spotted a gap and struck low. His shot hit the wall and a ricochet took the ball into the path of Clayton who sliced horribly from the edge of the penalty area.
The final minute of the game brought more drama as Lee Tomlin fell under challenge inside the penalty area. Penalties have been given in such circumstances, but not this time.
Scorers Maloney, 24; Bamford, 58.
Wigan Athletic: Carson; Barnett, Taylor, Ramis, Boyce (Capt to 82.) (Perch 82), McCann, Espinoza (McClean 70), McManaman, Forshaw (Watson 81), Maloney, Fortune. Nicholls (gk); Riera, Huws, Figueroa.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Nsue (Fredericks 70), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Adomah, Leadbitter (Capt), Clayton, Reach (Bamford 56), Tomlin, Kike (Wildschut 81). Subs: Mejias (gk); Husband, Whitehead, Vossen.
Order of subs on 70: 1) McClean 2) Fredericks
Order of subs on 81: 1) Wildschut 2) Watson
Referee David Webb
Wigan Athletic McCann, 49, foul; Boyce, 66.
Middlesbrough Clayton, 23, foul; Adomah, 63, foul.
Attendance 16,347 (4,893 Boro)
Conditions Cool and still
Possession: Wigan Athletic 60% Middlesbrough 40%
Boro Website Man of the Match George Friend