Latics v PortsmouthLatics continue to inch away from danger in npower League One following their 1-0 home victory against Portsmouth.
Jose Baxter’s early goal was decisive making it three league wins in a row for in-form Latics who are now four points clear of the relegation places.
In truth it ought to have been a far wider margin of victory as Latics twice struck the frame of the goal and had numerous other chances as all they lacked was a ruthless cutting edge.
Paul Gerrard, a member of Latics’ caretaker management team, admitted it was not a great spectacle, saying: "We know we can play better but, at this stage of the season and in our predicament, we will take five more wins like that.
"I should imagine it was a horrible game for the supporters to watch, but I think the win shows how far we have come confidence wise when we don’t play at our best and come away with three points which we needed."
Gerrard admitted Latics had enough chances to have won by some distance but, by failing to take them, they were left holding on to an anxious one-goal advantage.
"The longer the game went on, the fear was that we might switch off and Portsmouth might nick one on the counter attack and it could easily have turned into a draw or 2-1 loss. We just hoped it was not one of those days when we went to rue the chances we missed," he continued.
And with this in mind, he added it was important for Latics to defend well as he described centre-backs Jean-Yves M’voto and James Tarkowski as "fantastic."
Caretaker Manager Tony Philliskirk made five changes from the side which started at Stevenage as he reverted to the side which drew 2-2 against Everton with the exception of James Wesolowski who was ruled out through injury.
Dean Bouzanis, Connor Brown, Jordan Obita, Chris Iwelumo and Jose Baxter returned after all five were rested in midweek.
Latics made a bright start and had a couple of half chances before making the breakthrough in the 10th minute.
Baxter (pictured scoring) picked up the ball in midfield, advanced forward and fired home an unstoppable shot from 25 yards which arrowed into the bottom corner. It was his 12th goal of the season.
If Latics thought it would be the start of an avalanche of goals, they were mistaken as a second proved elusive.
A blunder by Yassin Moutaouakil almost presented Latics with a goal midway through the opening period when he kicked a clearance to Lee Croft. He released Jordan Obita who, clean through, shot wide.
Croft’s drive cleared the bar by inches, M’voto headed just over and Chris Iwelumo’s header flashed narrowly wide.
Portsmouth’s hopes of clawing their way back into the game were made nigh impossible five minutes after the restart when they had centre-back Sam Sodje sent off.
Moutaouakil reacted angrily after a challenge by Obita sent him hurtling over the advertising hoardings. Other players became involved in a heated exchange and Sodje saw red by raising his hands to Lee Barnard with whom he remonstrated.
Obita shot just over and Baxter’s curled effort brought a diving save from Simon Eastwood.
Latics enjoyed a great spell when they struck the woodwork twice in quick succession.
Jonathan Grounds’ superbly struck free kick from the right hit the far upright and then Obita’s spectacular overhead kick struck the post with Barnard’s follow-up shot superbly saved by Eastwood.
Latics brought on Matt Smith for Iwelumo midway through the half and later Robbie Simpson and Cliff Byrne for Barnard and Tarkowski.
Smith saw a header loop over not long after making his entrance and made a nuisance of himself with a couple more headers.
Portsmouth had just one sniff at goal when Jed Wallace shot inches over – it served as a warning to Latics they could not rest on their laurels.
Latics finished strongly as M’voto made an amazing weaving run into the Pompey penalty area before seeing his shot blocked. It would have been the goal of the season.
Grounds then cut the ball back for Croft whose goalbound drive was blocked as Latics just couldn’t muster another goal to lift the tension in the dying stages which included an agonising five minutes of stoppage time.
Latics were not troubled, but by the same token weren’t able to relax until the final whistle was blown by referee Mark Heywood.
Latics (4-4-2): Bouzanis; Brown, Tarkowski (Byrne 87), M’voto, Grounds; Croft, Furman, Baxter, Obita; Iwelumo (Smith 66), Barnard (Simpson 83). Subs (not used): Cisak, Murray, Millar, Mellor.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Eastwood; Moutaouakil (Keene 85), Sodje, Gyepes, Butler; Wallace, Racon, Ertl, Walker (Connolly 76); Akinde, Agyemang (Reed 76). Subs (not used): Smith, Harris, Webster, Rocha.
The goal: Baxter (10) for Latics.
Sending off: Sodje (50) for Portsmouth.
Booking: Obita (86) for Latics.
Referee: Mr M Heywood.
Attendance: 4,527 (468 visitors).