Adam Bogdan prevented Latics going away with an undeserved three points with a penalty save in the last minute of added time. Bolton’s Hungarian goalkeeper moved superbly to his right to parry Jordi Gomez’s shot.
Uwe Rosler made seven changes to his side, with Leon Barnett making a surprise return to the centre of defence, where he was to partner Emmerson Boyce. James Perch and Jean Beausejour lined up in the full back positions. James McArthur, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jordi Gomez made up the midfield, with a front three of Martyn Waghorn, Marc Antoine Fortune and James McClean.
The match was to prove one-sided. Latics were up against an enthusiastic Bolton side, keen to beat their near neighbours. Bolton are in a fairly safe position in the table, with no chance of reaching the play-offs and this was a big game for them.
Wigan were lucky it took as much as 31 minutes for Bolton to score when lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz stretched to get a toe to an inswinging free kick from Rob Hall on the right. Al-Habsi could not prevent it reaching the net.
The home team had dominated the match, their wide players Lee and Hall preventing Wigan’s full backs from overlapping and their direct approach causing Latics problems. Bogdan had little to do in the Bolton goal.
The match continued in this pattern for the first hour, with Latics having to rely on the fine goalkeeping of Al-Habsi to keep them in the game. Callum McManaman had been brought on at half time to replace the ineffective McClean. However, Wigan’s main tactical ploy was for the defenders to send in high balls to lone centre forward Fortune who must have been bruised and battered at the end of the match in his efforts to win the ball against the giants in the Bolton defence. In fact the whole display up to that point reminded one of the Coyle era at Wigan.
The introduction of Jack Collison for Tunnicliffe after 58 minutes signaled a slight upturn in the quality of football played by the visitors. The jaded McArthur was finally substituted after 70 minutes, with Nick Powell coming on, but being deployed on the left wing. Wigan had survived a scare early in the second half when Barnett fouled Liam Trotter just outside the penalty box. The Latics defender was lucky to receive a yellow card, rather than a red.
Thanks to the heroics of their goalkeeper Latics somehow survived until the 88th minute when Powell scored a fine opportunist goal from Waghorn’s cross. The tide then turned and it was Wigan who now looked the more dangerous, with McManaman testing left back Tim Ream, normally a central defender. Latics’ pressure continued and it was no surprise when McManaman was pulled down by substitute Alex Baptiste in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Jordi Gomez’s penalty was by no means a bad one, but in this case the goalkeeper guessed right and made a superb save. It contrasted with the penalty missed by Gomez against Yeovil when the goalkeeper was well off his line in making the save.
The flair of Powell and McManaman almost won the game for Latics. There were signs of better football from Wigan in the final stages, despite them looking lethargic and jaded for the majority of the time.
Collison continues to look the part in midfield. Providing his knee can withstand the pressure he could prove to be a key player over the coming weeks.
The long ball has been rearing its ugly head in Latics’ play in recent matches. Against Watford they utilized it, but on that occasion Latics pushed up to five men forward in attack. However, putting long balls forward to an unsupported lone centre forward smacks of desperation.
All of Bolton’s back four were over six feet tall, with central defenders Zat Knight at 6’6” and David Wheater at 6’5”. The way to get past them was to play the ball on the ground, not give them food and drink by launching aerial passes.
Although Rosler had made seven changes to his lineup, the players still looked jaded. It is the worst game McArthur has played for a long time, but he clearly needs a rest and there is no obvious replacement for him. It is remarkable that he had been able to keep his momentum going until this match, playing so many games without a break.
Sadly Tunnicliffe still does not appear to have the quality Latics need in central midfield. He has been given chances but has not delivered.
The injuries to Ben Watson, Chris McCann and Roger Espinoza and the lack of emergence of Tunnicliffe mean that Rosler has few options available in midfield. The classy Josh McEachran still lacks full fitness and was not even on the bench at the Reebok. However, if Latics can make it through to the playoffs they are going to need players of his quality firing on all cylinders.
In the meantime Rosler might have to continue with Tunnicliffe, assuming that Fraser Fyvie remains out of consideration.
Ali Al-Habsi: 9 – a superb display.
James Perch: 6 – solid in defence.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 – not at his best, but played with his usual mixture of technique and application.
Leon Barnett: 6 – brave in defence. Woeful in his passing of the ball.
Jean Beausejour: 6 – pressed back into defence by the dangerous Korean winger, Lee.
James McArthur: 5 – poor. Taken off after 70 minutes.
Ryan Tunnicliffe: 4 – poor. Taken off after 58 minutes.
Jordi Gomez: 6 – the main creative outlet and worked hard. A shame he could not convert the penalty.
Martyn Waghorn: 6 – hardworking as always.
Marc Antoine Fortune: 5 – received woeful service, having to fight for high balls most of the time. Wastefully fired wide near the end when a goal was on the cards, but probably exhausted by that stage.
James McClean: 5 – not in the game. Taken off at half time.
Callum McManaman: – came on after half time. Looked dangerous when switched to the right and caused panic in the Bolton defence.
Jack Collison: – keeps the game simple, but makes himself available to receive the pass. A quality player at this level.
Nick Powell: – isolated on the left wing but showed his quality with a superb opportunist equalizer.