Three goals in the final nine minutes saw Wigan Athletic turn around a two-goal deficit to earn all three points on a crazy and dramatic afternoon in Chesterfield.
A thunderbolt from Dan Gardner broke the deadlock after a relatively uneventful first half. Leon Barnett’s bizarre headed own goal then doubled the Spireites’ advantage in the 68th minute.
But just as the home side appeared to be cruising to a fourth victory of the season, Barnett made up for his earlier error with an excellent 81st minute strike to give the Latics hope,
Former Chesterfield hero Craig Davies then restored parity from the spot, before Jordy Hiwula poked home in the 90th minute – completing a memorable comeback and sending the Spireites fans home stunned.
Chesterfield welcomed Wigan Athletic to the Proact Stadium for the first ever time as the Spireites and Latics prepared to go head to head for the first time since 2003 following the visitors fall from Premier League grace.
Dean Saunders’ side were looking to continue their strong start to the new campaign, which had seen them win three of their opening five games, against a side that had failed to pick up a single point away from home so far.
Both managers were without key players for today’s contest.
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was ruled out for the hosts with a hamstring problem while new signing Angel Martinez had devastatingly been ruled out of action for six months due to a training injury. However, there were some positives for Saunders, as Lee Novak returned to leading the attack after being sidelined with a head injury in the weeks before.
The biggest surprise for Chesterfield supporters came as Gboly Ariyibi returned to the starting line-up, having returned from USA Under-23’s duty this week especially for the game.
Meanwhile, the international break meant Latics boss Gary Caldwell was forced to be without regular striker Will Grigg, who was representing Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers.
Leading the attack instead was Davies, who returned to the Proact for the first time since scoring 25 goals in Chesterfield’s 2010/11 title-winning season. He was among a trio of familiar faces for Spireites fans in the visitors line-up, which also included goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell and David Perkins in the centre of midfield.
An even and largely event-free first half saw the two sides cancel each other out and struggle to create more than a handful of opportunities between them.
It took nearly 15 minutes for a goalkeeper to be called into action. Gardner’s free kick was directed on target by Ian Evatt, but O’Donnell did well to palm it away before Liam O’Neil’s deflected rebound effort flew over the bar.
The Spireites felt they should have had a penalty five minutes later when Gardner’s charge into the area was abruptly ended has he was brought down Donervon Daniels. However, while the referee did deem it to be a foul, he decided the challenge had originally taken place outside the area – much to the dismay of every involved with the home side, including both Gardner and Saunders who bemoaned the decision in their post-match interviews.
Wigan had a couple of half-chances of their own to open the scoring. Slovenian Haris Vuckic and Daniels both saw efforts go wide of the target, while Davies wasted a good opportunity by firing straight at former teammate Tommy Lee as he burst through on goal.
It has been an unfortunate week in terms of injuries for Saunders’ squad, and things went from bad to worse around the 40 minute mark when new signing O’Neil fell to the ground. There was immediate concern among the home players, Evatt signalling for treatment from the bench, and the 22-year old defender eventually limped off the field having suffered a dislocated knee that Saunders admitted the club won’t know the full extent of until next week.
The stoppage meant there were six minutes added and this extra time proved to be the most exciting of the half.
The Latics looked certain to score when the charged forward and Davies cut the ball back to Michael Jacobs, who was in in space with the goal at his mercy, but a tremendous save from goalkeeping-extraordinaire Lee managed to keep it goalless.
Novak then had the final chance of the half at the other end, but his strike on the turn could only find the side netting – to the bemusement of a number of supporters who were already upstanding, believing he had found the net.
But this turned out to be a game that truly lived up to the famous cliche – “a game of two halves.” After relatively little report-worthy incidents in the first half, the second saw the game burst into life.
Chesterfield appeared to be in the ascendancy after the restart, but continued to struggle to penetrate the Latics defence. Jay O’Shea curled a free kick harmlessly wide of O’Donnell’s goal, before frustratingly seeing a later goal-bound effort blocked by the unfortunate face of Novak – who after going down on three separate occasions holding his head across the afternoon, ultimately got taken off around the hour mark with a dead leg!
Two ex-Spireites caused a panic in the Chesterfield box that almost led to a Wigan open just after the hour. Perkins charged down the wing before drilling in a low cross, that eventually landed at the feet of Davies, only for the striker to somehow fire his effort well over the target.
And the visitors were left to rue missed chances as a Gardner wonder-strike put Chesterfield ahead. The midfielder cut inside from the left before unleashing an unstoppable strike into the top right corner of the net. Not a bad way to score your first of the season!
Abuzz with confidence, the 25-year old set himself up for a similar opportunity just moments later but on this occasion he couldn’t keep it down and the ball flew into the Kop stand behind the goal.
Six minutes after taking the lead, Chesterfield doubled their advantage in odd fashion. Dan Jones’ in-swinging free kick was powerfully headed past O’Donnell by defender Barnett, who would have bi doubt been delighted with the nature of the finish had it been at the other end!
The Spireites looked to be in cruise control now and with Wigan offering little attacking threat, they looked on-course for another impressive victory.
However, with 81 minutes on the clock everything changed and the game was suddenly back on. Barnett made up for his earlier error with a stunning low strike from the edge of the area that finally got past Lee to give Wigan and their 1,009 travelling supporters a glimmer of hope.
Five minutes later Wigan should have been level but a superb double stop from Lee, followed by a bit of fortune as Hiwula hit the crossbar from close-range, meant Chesterfield’s lead remained in tact.
But the good fortune didn’t last long as the referee awarded the Latics a penalty in the 87th minute. Lee had kept Davies at bay all afternoon, but despite guessing the right way it proved to be a step too far as the strike found the bottom corner with precision to level the contest.
At this stage, if anybody was going to find a winner it was going to be the visitors. And this proved to be the case, as the Latics sent Chesterfield into a shell-shock with a 90th minute winner from Hiwula – the former Manchester City man poking home the rebound of yet another Lee save.
There was a stunned silence at full time from all but the away supporters, who celebrated a memorable afternoon with a flare and brief pitch encroachment.
Wigan boss Caldwell said “a crazy 10 minutes saw us behind in a game we should have been winning” but showed delight in the final result, adding “we were phenomenal in the end and deserved the winner.”
Despite a disappointing result, Saunders did not appear overly down-beat and praised his side’s performance. “I can’t complain with the way we played, we were brilliant, but it’s a kick in the teeth for everybody. Ii think everybody’s just sick in that dressing room that we had the points and we’ve lost them.”
Chesterfield will be looking to bounce back at home next Saturday against Colchester United, while Wigan hope their trip to Port Vale will see them earn a third consecutive victory.
Line-up: Lee, O’Neil (Raglan ’43), Jones, Hird, Evatt, Morsy, Gardner, O’Shea, Novak (Gnanduillet ’58), Banks, Ariyibi (Humphries ’82)
Scorers: Gardner ’62, Barnett (og) ’68
Wigan Athletic (3)
Line-up: O’Donnell, Daniels (McCann ’60), Pearce, Murray (Kellett ’79), Barnett, Perkins, Power, Jacobs, James, Davies, Vuckic (Hiwula ’60)
Scorers: Barnett ’81, Davies (p) ’87, Hiwula ’90
Attendance: 7,145 (1,009 away)
Date: 5th September 2015
Gallery: (click for larger images)