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Just when Crewe were seemingly set to travel back to base with a well-earned point against a playoff-chasing Sunderland outfit – no mean feat at The Stadium of Light – two inspired substitutions from the Black Cats turned the tie on its head.
Alex Neil turned to Daniel Neil and Patrick Roberts to try to break down a stubborn Crewe defence, and the double change paid off, with Neil drawing first blood in the 84th minute before Roberts put the result beyond any doubt five minutes later.
Crewe ultimately left empty-handed despite keeping Sunderland at bay for large portions of the contest, and a third successive defeat leaves David Artell‘s side rooted to the bottom of the pile in League One, and they will remain in 24th place no matter what transpires in midweek.
An eight-point chasm separates Crewe from the safety of 20th spot, and having now suffered 10 defeats from their last 11 outings in the third tier – including each of their last five at home – a Wigan side with a point to prove could enjoy a field day.
Rotherham United failing to extend their lead at the summit as they were held to a goalless stalemate at Wycombe Wanderers, the stage was set for Wigan to close the gap on their title rivals with a trip to third-placed MK Dons and recover from the EFL Trophy penalty heartache at the hands of Sutton United.
As the table would suggest – with both sides neck and neck in the rankings – the two promotion hopefuls could not be separated on the day, as Tom Naylor‘s opener for the Latics was cancelled out by Harry Darling‘s effort two minutes from time.
Failure to record a third successive win in League One sees Leam Richardson‘s second-placed side remain four points adrift of Rotherham and level with MK Dons – only separated from their recent opponents on goal difference – so their Championship destiny is still in their own hands.
Crewe defender Travis Johnson was fit enough to return from a knock against Sunderland, but Arsenal loanee Ryan Alebiosu and Dan Agyei could both miss out once more.
Artell also remains without Rio Adebisi and Billy Sass-Davies for the foreseeable future, although attacking duo Ben Knight and Scott Kashket are closing in on their returns to action.
The hosting manager may be loath to make too many alterations after a respectable showing against Sunderland, but Oli Finney is ready to freshen up the midfield if required.
As for Wigan, James McClean is still serving his suspension after his sending off against Fleetwood Town, but Graeme Shinnie and Tendayi Darikwa are both back from their bans.
However, Richardson has a fresh concern to deal with after Callum Lang was cautioned for the 10th time this season in the MK Dons draw, with Gavin Massey or Gwion Edwards primed to take his place in the attack.
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Glen Rea remains an injury doubt for the Latics, as captain Darikwa prepares to reclaim his rightful spot in the side, potentially forcing Massey onto the bench in the process.
Crewe Alexandra possible starting lineup:
Richards; Offord, O’Riordan, Williams; Johnson, Finney, Griffiths, Lowery, Lundstram; Long, Sambou
Wigan Athletic possible starting lineup:
Amos; Kerr, Whatmough, Tilt; Darikwa, Power, Naylor, Bennett; Edwards, Humphrys, Keane