As Wigan Athletic slowly edge closer to a return to normality off the pitch, Saturday saw them take a big step towards League One survival on it, with an emphatic victory over MK Dons at The DW.
Goals from George Johnston, Callum Lang and Joe Dodoo secured three big points for Wigan and showed the ruthlessness they will need to eventually get themselves to safety, while at the other end, producing a resilient and, at times lucky, defensive to lift themselves off the bottom of the League One table and to within one point of safety, while leaving their visitors winless in four, with their season already threatening to peter out in March.
It was the hosts, perhaps with the greater need given their position at the bottom of the League One table going into the game, who would create the opening chance of the game, as Tendayi Darikwa played Callum Lang in behind, with Dons ‘keeper Andy Fisher doing well to come off his line and narrow the angle to make the save inside five minutes.
Indeed, it was Wigan who would continue to apply the pressure in the early stages, although for a time, they would struggle to work Fisher again, while the Dons’ only early effort saw Joe Mason’s strike from range deflect behind for a corner that would come to nothing.
The, as the first half hit the midway point, Wigan would get the opener their play deserved, as a cross from the left from the lively Viv Solomon-Otabor made its way to the back post, where Feyenoord loanee George Johnston was on hand to head into the bottom corner for his first goal in senior football.
That goal would spark the visitors into life somewhat, as they went close to finding a response when Ethan Laird teed up Scott Fraser in the area, with his effort deflecting behind for a corner that failed to trouble Wigan ‘keeper Jamie Jones.
Dons boss Russell Martin would then produce a response of his own with a double change on the half-hour mark, with Andrew Surman and Zak Jules sent on in place of Daniel Harvie and Jordan Houghton, both of whom had only been restored to the starting lineup for this match.
It was however, Wigan who would go closer to scoring a second immediately after that, as an excellent linkup between Tendayi Darikwa and Gavin Massey on the counter saw the free to get a shot away inside the MK Dons area, with Fisher parrying the first effort at the feet of the Wigan man, with the visitors somehow able to scramble clear to avoid going a second behind.
Despite that, the visitors were growing into the game, and they would twice go close to equalising before the break, with Jones tipping over the bar after Manchester United loanee Ethan Laird cut in from the right and fired one towards goals from just inside the area.
If that run and shot was impressive, then what was to come moments later was on another level altogether, as Harry Darling unleashed a vicious strike from all of 40 yards which rattled the Wigan goalpost before bouncing away to safety, as the Latics hung onto their lead going into the interval, with the visitors also frustrated not to be given a penalty when Solmon-Otabor handled on the edge of the area, with a free-kick ultimately awarded.
The second half would start in a similar manner with MK Dons fashioning the first chance after the break, Laird again involved down the right, with his pull back finding Joe Mason who curled wide from the edge of the area.
Darling would then again try his luck from distance, and while not quite as far out as his effort in the first half, the defender’s effort would drift further off target this time around.
But for all their pressure, the visitors were unable to work Jones in the Wigan goal, and they would be made to pay for that midway through the second half, as the hosts doubled their lead with just about their first attack since the break.
With Fraser taking too long inside his own half, Darikwa won the ball back before playing it down the right for Massey, whose cross into the box was met by the head of a flying Lang, from where crashed off the underside of the bar and in, giving Lang his sixth goal in ten games since his January return from a loan spell with Motherwell.
Moments later, MK Dons would gift their hosts a third goal, and the three points, as a weak backpass from Surman brought Fisher out of his area, with the ‘keeper’s clearance going straight to the feet of Solomon-Otabor, with the winger driving into the area before showing excellent awareness to roll the ball across the face of goal for Joe Dodoo to tap home his first goal in a Wigan shirt.
By now it was becoming clear that MK Dons’ luck was out on the afternoon, as they hit the woodwork for the second time in the game with just under 15 minutes remaining, as Fraser curled an effort against the bar from the edge of the area as the visitors looked for a route back into the game from a corner.
In the end though, Wigan would ride out that late pressure to secure a crucial win in the battle against relegation, on a day that few associated with the club will want to forget too quickly.