Will Grigg was not on fire but neither were Leeds United and an injury-time equaliser sucked the warmth from Elland Road on a cold night. Garry Monk will rue this result more than Saturday’s defeat to Derby County; a win thrown away in meek, meek style.
The luck that deserted Leeds at Derby on Saturday appeared to have redressed itself last night as Chris Wood scored with a classy first-half volley and United kept out Wigan’s chances through hell and high water.
But a failure to go for the jugular and a raft of containing substitutions by Monk cost Leeds in the 91st minute as Shaun MacDonald hacked a shot in off the post. Wood’s finish would have been deserving of a victory on most evenings but in its entirety, Leeds’ performance was not.
Wigan hit the woodwork in the first half and saw two efforts cleared off the line as United struggled to have the opening 45 minutes their own way.
Wood’s eighth goal of the season was at odds with the contest. Excellent throughout, he was inches away from nodding in a second before Wigan salvaged a point.
The striker has come good routinely this season, scoring when few others in Monk’s squad do, and a clinical strike – controlling a cross with his chest before smashing the ball into the far corner of Wigan’s net – stung United’s Lancashire visitors on the half-hour.
Wigan had looked more fluent before then and, after a serious wobble in the five minutes that followed, gave Monk more cause for concern before the interval arrived.
Michael Jacobs missed a sitter, striking the outside of a post with Rob Green flat-footed, and two desperate clearances followed but the woodwork did no more than it had done to Leeds at Pride Park, where Kyle Bartley and Marcus Antonsson struck the frame of the goal as Derby hung on for a 1-0 win.
Monk has ridden the swings and roundabouts since the international break ended and a victory of any sort was what he needed yesterday. Leeds were on the verge of it when a corner caused pandemonium and MacDonald pounced inside their box.
As the ball settled in the net, Monk was denied the chance to welcome a valuable result and the most engaged performance from Kemar Roofe since the forward came north from Oxford United.
Roofe was picked out as Monk’s alternative to Alex Mowatt and a potential fit on the left wing. In all but League Cup ties, Monk has held Roofe in reserve since the first month of the season but the news this week that Stuart Dallas will miss another fortnight with a torn calf muscle rendered the dubious re-invention of Mowatt as a winger – tried again at Derby over the weekend – too risky to persist with.
Roofe was Leeds’ most expensive signing in the summer, a £3m buy on the basis of a stream of goals and assists for Oxford during the 2015-16 season. In the white of Leeds, his assists number one and his column of goals scored is blank. The 23-year-old was due a chance as Leeds were due a performance from him.
His presence was intended to give Leeds some potency and deny Wigan the same grip on possession that Derby enjoyed for an hour on Saturday. The cold, nonetheless, infected Monk’s side and Wigan took a quick hold of the ball as poor touches from a gloved-up Hadi Sacko kept United away from Adam Bogdan’s goal.
Wigan were largely at arm’s length from Green and Nick Powell’s wayward volley was as much as the keeper faced for half-an-hour.
One exchange between Roofe and Charlie Taylor ended with Pablo Hernandez slicing a waist-high cross beyond Bogdan’s far post and Wood kept Bogdan involved with a worthwhile hit from 25 yards which the goalkeeper saved to his right. Wigan’s effective pressing and Stephen Warnock’s management of Sacko prevented any clearer chances until Wood scored. One eventually presented itself to Wigan midway through the half but the lively Jacobs whipped a shot straight into Green’s hands.
But from nowhere, with the 30th minute up, Leeds conjured a goal from nothing. Sacko was reprieved after a heavy touch which Dan Burn failed to clear and his deep cross from the right found Wood lurking in the box. The striker chested the ball down before smashing a volley past Bogdan. One quality finish rose above the entire evening before then and it was all it took for Wigan to briefly lose their nerve.
Leeds played on the swing in momentum and spent the next five minutes around Wigan’s box. Sacko’s spell off the pace was forgotten as the winger’s concentration returned.
Yet Caldwell’s players were denied an equaliser on 39 minutes when Jacobs drove Will Grigg’s cut-back against the outside of a post.
From eight yards out, it was easier to score. Moments later, Green reacted superbly to beat a Nick Powell header off his goalline and Pontus Jansson was in the right place to stop Jake Buxton converting the rebound. The arrival of half-time suited Monk.
The scoreline encouraged Wigan to start taking risks in the second half and Leeds gradually exploited space in behind their defence.
When Luke Ayling forced Bogdan to beat the ball behind on 55 minutes, Jansson’s header from the resulting corner brought a clearance from Buxton underneath his own bar.
Wood almost put the result beyond doubt with a fine hanging header on 73 minutes but Bogdan kept it out of the top corner with his fingertips and the match descended into the sort of late tension that Elland Road knows well.
Monk sent on Matt Grimes and Mowatt before giving Marcus Antonsson the last five minutes, sacrificing Wood’s height in the process. Leeds withstood the worst that Wigan threw at them until the very first minute of injury-time. A corner caused chaos and MacDonald was on hand to smash a volley in off Green’s left-hand post. It was hard to deny that Wigan were worth it.