Say what you like about Kirk Broadfoot, but there are three things you can’t dispute about the Rotherham United centre-half’s approach to the game.
The Scottish international is straightforward, direct and honest. And he speaks as he plays.
So what did uncompromising Kirk, not the favourite of every Millers fan but putting together a run of good performances as his side fight for Championship survival, make of James McLean’s contribution to the first Wigan goal which set the visitors on their way to victory?
“It’s a blatant dive,” he said straightforwardly.
“He’s cheating,” he added in direct condemnation,
“It’s disappointing to see that from a fellow professional,” was his honest, damning appraisal.
Republic of Ireland international McLean’s dive would have won approval from Tom Daley’s camp as he leapt theatrically in the air before tumbling inside the penalty area despite Broadfoot doing the sensible thing and keeping his feet to himself.
“Everyone can see I clearly jumped out of the way and he dived up,” said Broadfoot. “There’s no more I can say about it. I’m nowhere near him. He’s dived and it leads to their goal.”
If the referee thought there was contact he should have given a penalty because the incident happened just inside the box. So James Linnington, to the fury of Broadfoot, who was booked for his protests, Millers manager Steve Evans and the incredulous North Stand in front of whom the 31st-minute drama unfolded, messed up on two counts.
From the ridiculous to the sublime ... former Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant stepped up to send a Premier-League-quality chip over the wall and past Millers keeper Adam Collin who was so undone by the winger’s clever execution he barely moved.
And so the scene was set for the scrap at the bottom of the table to suddenly intensify as Malky Mackay’s men, in the third and final relegation place, closed the gap to six points on the Millers - who dropped to 21st after Fulham’s draw at Sheffield Wednesday - with nine matches to play.
Five minutes later, it was 2-0 as Pennant, who did nothing else in the rest of the game, stepped up for magic trick No 2. From a similar dead-ball position he sent a precision, three-quarter-strength drive round the wall into the other side of the net. Different delivery, same result, same static Collin.
This time there was no arguing about the free-kick as the otherwise impressive Ferrand Rawson, on his home debut and in only his second senior professional match, found himself the wrong side of Marc-Antoine Fortune and took action.
“The second one is a free-kick without a shadow of a doubt,” Evans conceded. “Young Raz gets a tug on him, You can’t fault the quality of the strike.”
Evans has emphasised througout the season the need to keep things on an even keel, and it needs stressing that the Millers still have a significant advantage over their conquerors on Saturday.
As Broadfoot said: “Six points is still a healthy gap. To be honest, we’d have taken that at this stage at the beginning of the season.”
But the blow defeat delivered to Rotherham and the boost victory gave Wigan were over and above the three points at stake. It’s all about beating the teams around you, and this was a six-point swing,
Evans’ men plainly should have taken something from the game. Other than the free-kicks, Wigan had a solitary effort on target, late on, when Collin had to be at his most agile to tip over substitute William Kvist’s looping, deflected, right-foot effort. A good save and no kvidding.
“We had a right go and we’re unlucky to lose the game,” Broadfoot said. “It gives them a lift. It’s three points gained on us. We can’t get too downhearted, just as we don’t get too high when we win.
“Nobody expected Wigan to be down there with the squad they’ve got, but they where they are and we’re where we are. We just need to look forward to the next game and pick up as many points as we can to get us safe.
“It’s a hard one to take. I actually thought we played some pretty good stuff. We were the better team first half and second half. Two bits of brilliance have been our undoing really. 2-0 gives us a mountain to climb.”
Midfielder Paul Green wasted a 44th-minute chance to put his side back in the game, firing just over from a great position after a super run into the box and feed from right-back Jack Hunt.
But the goal the home side desperately needed before the interval came with the last play of the half, Ben Pringle’s cross from the right with his ‘wrong’ foot being headed over by Matt Derbyshire.
As the players left the field, there was a long, guttural roar from home fans, appreciating the significance of the match and desperate to play their part in a second-half comeback.
The Millers dominated possession after the break. They worked hard, they pressed, they caused problems, they reduced Wigan to long and drawn-out timewasting, but the all-out siege never really came.
Lots of pressure yes, onslaught no.
Wigan have plenty of Premier League experience in their side, but it was a youngster who can’t buy a top-flight game with Hull City who did most to keep the Millers at bay. Centre-half Harry Maguire, once of Sheffield United and sent out on loan by Hull City for the rest of the season, did what he does best. He headed it away, he headed it away again and then he headed it away some more.
After Daniel Lafferty had prodded wide at the back post from Hunt’s supply. Kari Arnason, again selected in midfield, had fired over, seen a header saved and sub Jordan Bowery had slashed a good chance over the bar, Rotherham’s moment arrived.
The accomplished Lafferty sent in a superb 87th-minute cross from the left and Bowery’s header looked a goal all the way. But Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi produced a stunning save to claw it out via a post and then blocked Bowery’s follow-up while he lay grounded on the line.
So close. So agonisingly close. The fact that Sky Sports News HQ, with three divisions of goalkeeping heroics to choose from, made the first stop their Football League Save of of the Day says it all.
“There are two big chances for Jordan,” said Evans. “The goalkeeper’s made a wonderful save from his header, but he should follow up and tap in.”
The Millers manager always hurts after a defeat, but here he was visibly feeling the pain even deeper than usual.
“All bar score goals in the second half, I couldn’t ask us to do any more,” he said. “All bar the odd breakaway, Wigan just haven’t got out of their half. We should have won here today.
“We highlighted the fact to the players that Wigan were in good form, but, listen, they shouldn’t win here based on the balance of play. But football will never change. It’s based on goals. They’ve scored twice, we’ve scored once.
“It’s a good result from their point of view and a good results for others in the league. The only people who will feel it are us, but we have to bounce back.”
Broadfoot agreed: “We have to just move on.
“It’s a big week. It’s a big week everywhere in the Championship. There are some big teams in there. We look at the table but you have to focus on yourself.”
Big week now, huge match last Saturday. Win and Rotherham would have been 12 points clear and sailing towards safety. Defeat for the Millers gives Wigan hope, adds to their growing momentum and now makes midweek very interesting.
The Millers are at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday. Tomorrow, the Latics, now with four successive away wins, entertain promotion-chasing Watford at the DW Stadium, where the home side haven’t won since August.
As Evans pointed out on several occasions pre-match, nothing would be decided against the Latics. There are still swings and turns aplenty to be had in this nailbiting battle for safety in the second tier.
And why do so many people think it has to be Wigan or Rotherham who go down? Other teams just above the Millers are right in the mix.
In three days the gap could be down three, it may back up to nine, it might stay at six, it could be five or seven.
Who can say in a division as tight, unpredictable and thrilling as this one.
Rotherham United (4-2-3-1): Collin 5; Hunt 7, Rawson 7, Broadfoot 7, Lafferty 7; Smallwood 8 (Newton 87), Arnason 7; Sammon 6 (Bowery 74), Green 6 (Hammill 54, 5), Pringle 7; Derbyshire 6. Subs not used: Thompson, Milsom, Richardson, Morgan.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Al Habsi 8; Boyce 5, Maguire 9, Pearce 8, Bong 5; Pennant (Cowie 76) 7, Bo-Kyung 7, Perch 6, Ojo 6(Kvist, 62, 6); McLean 7, Fortune 6. Subs not used: Nicholls, McCann, McKay, Barnett, Waghorn.
Manager’s view - Steve Evans: “It’s hard to take. If the first one is a free-kick, we should give football up. It’s embarrassing for the referee. We’ve laid siege to their goal in the second half and their goalkeeper’s made a couple of wonderful saves, so we’re disappointed obviously. If people want to go diving around getting free-kicks then Wigan are welcome to them. We’ll look at it again on Monday and learn from it. If we play as well as we played in the second half a lot of times we’ll get a lot of points.”
Manager’s view - Malky Mackay: “Jermaine Pennant’s delivery on both free-kicks was sensational. It’s not until you look at that and look at it again that you see exactly what he did and how he has executed those free-kicks. Great credit to him for the way that he’s come into the football club and shown great character, personality and humility. We played our way into the game in the second half and had a couple of chances, but then Jordan Bowery comes on and I knew they would do something different. I thought my centre-backs stood really firm as far as that was concerned and, barring Al-Habsi’s fantastic double save, they didn’t actually challenge our goal in the second half, so I’ve got to be very, very pleased with the performance.”
Hero: Not always easy to find a hero after a damaging defeat but Farrend Rawson, his one slip for the second free-kick apart, justified Steve Evans’ decision to play the 18-year-old loan centre-half. Strong in the air and enough pace to get himself in the right positions.
Key moment: Pick from the wrong free-kick decision which set Wigan on their way or Jordan Bowery’s double miss which would have given Rotherham the parity that was the least they deserved.
Viewpoint: There’s no disguising this was a bad result for the Millers who would have been close to safety had they won. But let’s keep it in perspective. I’d rather be in Rotherham’s shoes than Wigan’s.
Referee watch: James Linnington (Isle of Wight). Got the big call wrong and was dubious in many other aspects of his officiating. Referees shouldn’t influence games. He did.