Wigan Athletic 3, Barnsley 2
Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom was more than a little miffed after seeing his side snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Thursday night.
The Reds were apparently easing their way to another splendid away success at the DW Stadium when they imploded to concede three goals in the space of 11 minutes against a side struggling frantically to avoid the drop back down to League One after just one season in the Championship.
Said a dazed Heckingbottom (pictured): “At 2-0 we were defending well; we weren’t really troubled; and we were a constant threat on the counter. In fact, after our second goal we started to control the ball a lot better.”
Then came what he described as ‘a crazy five minutes’ and he went on: “You have to limit mistakes if you want to play as high as you can, and we know that. Mistakes cost us the game, and the players are concerned about that. They know exactly what they’ve done wrong and if that happens they don’t play.”
Heckingbottom was referring particularly to individual errors, but as a team the Reds did not pay sufficient attention to former Manchester United forward Nick Powell, who was allowed to go on as substitute in the 66th minute to turn the game on its head with a quick-fire hat-trick.
It was a big blow to Barnsley’s aim of finishing in the top half of the table, but for Wigan it boosted their fading hopes of avoiding relegation back to League One after just one season in the Championship.
There was little in the first half to suggest the drama that was to unfold in the second. The first shot on target did not arrive until nine minutes before the break, when Adam Davies went down to save an effort from former Barnsley loanee Sam Morsy.
It was the visitors, however, who stole the lead on the stroke of half-time when Adam Armstrong was on hand to slide the ball home from six yards after a fierce drive from Ryan Kent had rebounded off the post.
When Kent cut in from the wing to make it 2-0 with a stunning left-footer shortly after the interval it looked very much like game set and match. Wigan were fighting hard but lacking penetration, while at the same lime leaving gaps in defence for the Reds to exploit.
It all changed, however, with the substitution of Powell for Obertan with 66 minutes gone.
He quite literally fired a warning shot almost immediately, his deflected 25-yarder being turned behind for a corner by Davies.
The Reds failed to heed the warning and Powell was in no mood to be denied. He reduced the deficit in the 71st minute with a well-struck free-kick that Davies could only help into the net and two minutes later levelled matters when Davies failed to hold on to a shot from Ryan Colclough.
The complexion of the game thus change totally. Wigan, apparently down and out until Powell’s inspirational substitution, now sensed they could snaffle all three points rather than one.
Max Power went close to a winner barely a minute after the equaliser when he hit the bar, but it was, almost inevitably, it seemed, Powell who picked himself up and dusted himself down to provide the deciding strike from the penalty spot eight minutes from time after he had been sent sprawling by a challenge from Marc Roberts.
Matty James thought for a moment late on that he had rescued a point for the Reds but the goal was ruled out for a push on Wigan goalkeeper Jacob Haugaard.
That compounded the disappointment for Barnsley, who have now won only two of their last 10 games.
Wigan: Haugaard; Connolly (J Byrne, 54 mins), Burn, Buxton, Warnock, Hanson, MacDonald, Power, Morsy (Colclough, 45 mins); Jacobs, Obertan (Powell, 66 mins).
Barnsley: Davies; Janko, Roberts, MacDonald, Jones, Warkins, Moncur, James, Kent, Bradshaw, Armstrong (Scowen, 80 mins).
Bookings: Burn, MacDonald, Hanson (Wigan); Janko, MacDonald, James, Watkins (Barnsley).
Referee: Simon Hooper.