A double from Nick Powell helped Wigan Athletic cruise to their first ever UEFA Europa League win as they beat Slovenian champions Maribor 3-1 at the DW Stadium.
A horrific error from Maribor goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic gifted Powell his first after 22 minutes and Ben Watson doubled Wigan’s lead eleven minutes later.
Morales Tavares gave Maribor hope with a 59th minute strike but Powell scored a wonderful individual effort in the final minute to seal a historic win for the Championship side.
Owen Coyle’s side came into the game off the back of a 0-0 draw with Zulte Waregem in the opening group match, but their poor league form has seen them pick up just 11 points from a possible 24. Meanwhile, the Slovenian side are bottom of the group after two successive losses and they weren’t helped in the first half by some atrocious defending.
A disastrous giveaway almost set up a Wigan opener in the eighth minute, but a good save from Handanovic bailed out his team-mate Damjan Bohar. It was a weak pass that Powell pounced open before trying to lob the goalkeeper from 20 yards, but Handanovic made a good clawing save to push the ball away. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, one of his mistakes meant his side were behind later in the half.
Jean Beasejour, who was a threat all first half from the left wing, swung in a cross that should have been easily dealt with by the goalkeeper but he dropped his catch and Powell was waiting to knock in Wigan’s first ever European goal. It was a bad error from the goalkeeper and Maribor failed to recover from it as the game wore on.
They did create one good opportunity to level the scores in the 31st minute, but they found Scott Carson in the Wigan goal determined to put in a good showing. Jean-Phillipe Mendy provided a delightful Cruyff turn on the edge of the box and snapped a shot towards goal on his left foot, but the former England international goalkeeper pulled off a sublime diving save to retain Wigan’s lead.
It got better for the Latics when they doubled their lead in the 33rd minute. The goal came from another Beasejour cross as the winger put it on a plate for Watson who guided his header into the bottom corner from ten yards out. The man who scored the goal that gave Wigan the FA Cup, capitalised from poor marking but it was a good midfield run that got him into the position to score in his 100th game for Wigan.
The Slovenian side did perform at a higher level in the second half and defended better, but they should have been 3-0 down after 55 minutes. They couldn’t deal with Beasejour again on the left and the former Birmingham City man fizzed in a low cross that should have been turned in by a sliding Powell from four yards, but the Manchester United loanee hit the post with the goal gaping. It was a bad miss and the nerves increased inside the stadium when Maribor pulled a goal back four minutes later.
Mendy used his power and pace to spin away from Ryan Shotton, who got too tight, and the Maribor attacker did really well to cut it back for Tavares to rifle past Carson from ten yards out. It was a well-worked goal and suddenly, an unlikely comeback looked possible.
The pressure continued on the Wigan defence when the goalscorer forced Carson into a good diving save with a left-footed shot, but the Wigan shot-stopper would have one final important say in the game with a minute to go. Tavares had the bit between his teeth now and cracked a thunderbolt towards goal from 25 yards, but Carson pulled off a stunning save to tip the ball over the bar to the delight of his team-mates. The save was crucial and Wigan took advantage to kill the game off in injury time.
Powell has seemingly under-achieved after failing to break through into the Manchester United first team, but he showed his worth with a stunning second goal that Maribor could do nothing about. The midfielder, who started the game as a make-shift striker, danced his way through three defensive challenges before sending Handanovic the wrong way with a lethal finish from 12 yards out. It was a terrific goal and the party atmosphere inside the stadium was at fever pitch as the full-time whistle sounded.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)