Grant pierces the gloom

A chilly wind, a cavernous stadium with swathes of empty seats and 2 struggling teams playing their 3rd game in 7 days signalled another largely tedious affair lit up by a very special goal, but with Town’s continuing injury problems, adding a point to the tally to the 3 picked up at Charlton represented a good week for the club.

But for a single aberration and Wigan’s sometimes pretty but overwhelmingly ineffective attacking, the game would have been won by a Grant strike every bit as remarkable as the goals often seen flowing from the boot of Mo Salah.

A promising opening ten minutes saw Town on the front foot and playing with some assurance but this faded quickly and the home side eventually established territorial superiority without ever looking particularly dangerous. 

Ex-Town junior Windass caused some mild difficulties with his movement and there were a couple of situations not fully exploited by the hosts but a half which held little of interest to a shivering audience appeared to be fizzling out in well deserved stalemate was presented with its single talking point by Town keeper Grabara.

Up to this point, Wigan’s press against Town’s attempts to play out from the back had been swatted aside, though the easy escapes never lead to attacking threat. Stankovic, in particular, had strolled through the half and as he nonchalantly rolled the ball back to his colleague in the sticks with no path forward he must have thought that the eminently simple task he had passed on would be executed.

Grabara, untroubled up to this point, made the rather odd decision to try to hit a first time pass to Hogg which would have been reckless enough in normal circumstances (the attempt to play out had broken down; get rid) but with 2 opposition players in close attendance it became suicidal. 

The on loan youngster was to save Town going further behind just after half time when a Simpson back pass fell short, but his error allowed Windass to score what must have been a satisfying goal against the club who had released him.

From a position of relative comfort, Town were behind and heading to a dressing room where plans to build on the achievement of thoroughly containing rather toothless opposition had to be torn up and replaced.

It was a game which had not merited a goal and the visitors had fully contributed to the drab spectacle having one, weak, shot on target, which was one more than Wigan until the 43rd minute gift.

Town had welcomed back Simpson who, a couple of aberrations apart, including the near fatal back pass which would have consigned Town to defeat, offered welcome experience and stability at right back and Chalobah who was largely ineffective on his return from suspension.

Bacuna occasionally sprang to life and was Town’s brightest hope in a first half possessing little. It was he who had fed Grant for the visitors’ highlight (the shot on target) and his extrications when surrounded by opposing players offered a little cheer to the frozen souls behind the goal. Little else warmed the cockles.

Once the early scare perpetrated by Simpson and relieved by Grabara had passed, the second half was a little better for Town without ever hitting any real heights.

On the hour, the hard working but largely ineffective Koroma was replaced by Mounié with Grant moving left. It was a substitution which would rescue a point. For all his faults, Mounié is a bigger presence leading the line and Grant’s principal and priceless quality is enhanced as a second striker coming in from the left. 

The change made Town more progressive and the balance of power in the game shifted perceptibly.

On the front foot at last, the equaliser was just ten minutes away and when it came it was worth enduring much of the rest of the 90 minutes. Hogg advanced through the middle as Wigan back pedalled and found Grant on the left. With Hadergjonaj (who had another good outing) making a run down his side, Town’s leading scorer switched the ball to his right foot, created the tiniest bit of space and whipped an unstoppable shot in to the top corner. 

It was an instinctive and thrilling strike worthy of gracing the best of games; that it lit up such a mundane encounter does not diminish it in any way.

The visitors now looked the more likely winners and it was impossible not to feel sympathy for Mounié whose goal bound header from a Grant corner was cleared off the line. It seems unlikely he will ever score for Town again with a departure in January surely on the cards.

A loud penalty shout for handball was ignored rather too readily by the referee when it looked pretty clear cut but Town also had Stankovic to thank for nicking the ball away from Windass’ path at the death which could have turned a useful point in to none.

A forgettable game will be remembered for Grant’s genius equaliser but as Town yearn for the return of the injured and the possibility of new recruits and unlamented departures in January, picking up away points is keeping their heads just above the relegation places with the hope that they can stretch away as the Cowleys build their own vision.

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