WIGAN snatched a dramatic injury-time equaliser to deny Millwall a victory at the DW Stadium.
The Lions looked like they’d done enough to secure the three points but substitute Will Grigg slammed home in the box after Jordan Archer’s mistake.
In an action-packed game, Michael Jacobs put the home side ahead in the 53rd minute when he shot past Archer after Shaun Williams had lost possession in a dangerous area.
Fred Onyedinma fired Millwall level 16 minutes later before centre-back Mark Beevers put Neil Harris’ side ahead in the 74th minute.
Millwall found themselves under pressure in the last 10 minutes but seemed to be coping well before Grigg struck in the 92nd minute.
That denied the away side a fourth win on the road in the league this season as Wigan just about preserved their unbeaten run at home.
Wigan set out their stall with possession game
Harris said he regretted not making changes to his side during the last spell of three games in seven days after they had lost 2-0 to Southend on September 19. He took the opportunity this time to rest Steve Morison and Onyedinma, both of whom had started every game this season.
Onyedinma had been withdrawn after 61 minutes on Saturday and after a sparkling August he looked in need of a rest.
Lee Gregory was handed his first start since the home defeat to Chesterfield on August 29 and Ed Upson replaced Onyedinma in Millwall’s midfield.
And it was Gregory who came closest to scoring in the opening period when he turned smartly in the box to fire a left-footed shot across Richard O’Donnell and inches wide. Aiden O’Brien also climbed to get on the end of a Carlos Edwards cross but headed just wide.
It was Wigan though who dominated the possession in the opening 45 minutes without really troubling Archer. Their 3-5-2 formation was a fluid set-up with both wing-backs Tim Chow and, in particular, Reece James pushing well up on Edwards.
In midfield Williams and Jimmy Abdou were kept busy shadowing Max Power and Daivd Perkins with the latter looking to spark off Jordy Hiwula and Jacobs. And they constructed some nice moves outside Millwall’s box in the first half, but perhaps were a little guilty of overplaying the ball. They had a couple of half-chances with James twice shooting over when he ought to have found the target.
With Harris making notes and encouraging his players to keep their shape, Millwall got more of a foothold as the half went on and O’Brien continued to look a threat on the break, though a cuter pass after Williams had won the ball well in midfield would have put Gregory in behind a high Wigan defensive line.
Error and an unexpected turnaround
Ironically, for all of Wigan’s attractive approach play it was an error that finally let them in. Williams, who had moments earlier brilliantly slid in on Power to prevent a counterattack, gave the ball away 35 yards from his own goal and Jacobs, who had been a threat all night in the space between Millwall’s defence and midfield, surged into the box to finish left-footed into the far corner past Archer. After weathering a passing storm in the first half, that must have been a huge source of frustration for Harris.
He responded by taking off Shane Ferguson and Upson and bringing on Morison and Onyedinma and going all-out attack. The equaliser, when it came, was from nothing. After their goals at the weekend it was again Williams and Abdou who helped drag their side level. Williams found his midfield partner in the box and when Abdou was tackled the ball broke to Onyedinma who slotted in on 69 minutes.
The second arrived after Wigan had twice cleared off the line before the ball fell to Mark Beevers who scored his second of the season. It was quite the turnaround. And quite unexpected.
As was Wigan’s injury-time equaliser when Archer, who has been so solid recently, miscued a punch and Grigg pounced to slam home.
The performances and results improved markedly in September compared to the uncertainty that defined August.
The 1-0 over Peterborough and the international break that followed marked a clear threshold and Harris and his management team deserve credit for redressing the issues that were evident last month.
The Millwall manager promised the work carried out on the training ground during the break would be evident, and it was, with three wins in four kicked off by O’Brien’s hat-trick in the win at Crewe.
That reflects well on the coaching staff: shortcomings were identified and corrective action was taken.
Harris wasn’t afraid to publicly point out where he felt his players were failing to take responsibility. Others might have deemed that a risky strategy for someone in their first full season as a manager, but the players responded, with senior ones like Edwards reiterating the manager’s belief that preparation is designed to empower players to take personal responsibility.
The set-piece errors that were evident in the 3-2 home defeat to Barnsley, especially, have been reduced, while the individual and collective standard has been raised by the more experienced players like Edwards, Beevers and Williams, who found the goalscoring touch this month that his manager felt he was always capable of.
Four wins and a draw from six games is an improvement and a similar trajectory next month will set the club up well for the crucial winter period – where it all went so wrong last season.