A goal three minutes into injury time from forgotten man Mame Diouf secured all three points for Stoke City in Michael O’ Neill’s first home game in charge at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday to take the Northern Irishman’s tally to six from six.
Diouf beat the outstanding Wigan goalkeeper David Marshall from seven yards after a James McLean cross from the left ricocheted off Lactics’ defender Nathan Byrne into the path of Tom Ince and when his shot was blocked, the ball broke kindly to the Senegalese international who was on hand to send the Potter’s fans into raptures.
Asked about Diouf’s absence from the team in recent times the new Stoke boss said: “I can’t comment on the reasons for that. Since I’ve come into the club, Mame comes in every day with a smile on his face.
“He’s very popular with everyone at the club. He’s been here a long time and he’s a lot to offer.
“He’s a great option because you can play him in any of the three front positions. He’ll give you everything he’s got. He’s still a little bit short on his physical conditioning but that will come back and I’m delighted for him to get the goal”.
It was the visitors who led at the break with a Sam Morsey goal in the 39th minute despite a frantic opening ten minutes when the Potters could have scored twice.
Morsey capitalised on poor communication in the home defence and rolled the ball into an empty net after Stoke keeper Jack Butland’s attempted clearance at the edge of the box cannoned off Potter’s defender Tom Edwards who appeared have control of the situation.
It seemed that Stoke would have to settle for a point in a game that they dominated for large parts and created many chances, mainly through the industry of man of the match James McClean down the left wing who was a threat all day.
Former Wigan player Nick Powell had a header tipped onto the bar by Marshall from a McClean cross in the third minute and the Scottish international denied McClean with a block in the follow up.
Tom Ince blazed over in the seventh minute with a volley from 12 yards that should have hit the target.
Marshall denied Stephen Ward in the 31st minute after the full back combined well with McLean down the left.
Morsey almost put the visitors ahead in the 14th minute when he was inches away from getting on the end of a teasing Jamal Lowe cross from the right into the corridor of uncertainty.
Stoke were level ten minutes after the re-start when former Wolves defender Danny Batth toe poked home from close range a Ryan Woods free kick from the left and it was no more than O’ Neill’s men deserved.
McClean produced some magic in the 49th minute when he dribbled passed four Wigan defenders into the penalty area but couldn’t get the ball from under his feet at the vital time to produce a shot to threaten Marshall.
Stoke had good chances to go in front through Gregory, Vokes and Ince in the 61st , 75th and 81st minutes respectively but they couldn’t convert against a dogged Wigan defence marshalled so well by ex Celtic man Charlie Mulgrew.
O’Neill changed things late on by introducing Ndiaye, Vokes and Diouf and it was the latter who worked the oracle and lifted Stoke to third from bottom in the Skybet Championship level on points with Luton Town but behind the Hatters on goal difference and just one point behind today’s opponents in 20th place.
After the game Wigan boss Paul Cook lamented the last-minute defeat. He said: “Football is a cruel game. You don’t always get what you deserve. I feel sorry for the players tonight. I feel sorry for the supporters.
“The players gave everything they’ve got today. It’s easier to speak to you now than to them. It’s painful. It really is. I really feel sorry for the players. I really do. They absolutely gave everything they’ve got. As a manager, when your players do that, I won’t have any qualms.
“It’s a brutal industry as everyone knows. Management is tough now for everyone. We accept it. We come into work in it. You do your best and work as hard as you can.
“If the bosses at your club don’t think you’re doing a good job, you get sacked and someone else gets a go. That’s the reality of football. We’re on the floor at the moment as you can imagine, but we’ll pick ourselves up”.
The contrast could not have been greater for a delighted O’ Neill who said: “It’s been a great start. We made it a little more difficult than we had to at times but I’m delighted the with six points and three points today.
“I said to the players that it’s winning games like that that get you out of trouble really. We showed really good character in the second half.
“We dug in and showed that side of our character and it was great to win and it’s always great to win so late in the game. It gave us that extra wee lift as well. It’s sends the fans home happy and they look forward to coming back next week as well.
“I told them at half time that I’d learn more about them in the next 45 minutes than I probably would all season and not let me down and they didn’t and the reaction was good.
There are aspects of the game that we need to improve. We’re far from the finished article.”
The new manager said that he doesn’t expect any one else to come into his backroom team after the appointment of assistant manager Billy McKinlay and he said that he would have to sell players before he could buy.
He said; “There’s no room in the changing room for any more players. We won’t’ be able to bring any players in unless some players leave first of all”
He said 17 members of the first team squad who didn’t get a game on Saturday and that was too many.
O’Neill added: “Every squad benefits from being freshened up but as I said you don’t always have to bring players in and Mame Diouf was a perfect example of that.”