Oh man, I really feared the worst with this one. After our most dismal performance of the season against Newcastle, the smart money once again seemed to be on Wigan for the drop as Big Bob’s side lingered in nineteenth place looking a bit toothless up front.
With certain members of the squad looking a bit worse for wear, Martinez switched things around with Figueroa back in the starting lineup and James McArthur given a chance ahead of Diame in the centre of midfield. Most significant, perhaps, was the return of Chris Kirkland in the Latics net. After some less than convincing performances in the first half of the season including 3–0 and 2–0 defeats at the hands of Millwall and Ipswich to add to his ever-increasing goals against tally (4 to Blackpool plus 6 against Chelsea), things were already looking ominous and we hadn’t even kicked off yet.
It can’t have helped that news filtered through shortly before kickoff that Wolves had gone a goal ahead against Chelsea to provisionally put Latics rock bottom of the league. Geez, you put in one terrible performance and the pressure really does build.
Ultimately, though, Wigan will do well to ignore their fellow strugglers’ games and concentrate on their own because we certainly ain’t gonna receive any favours from other teams this season. In fact, things are so tight down at the bottom that I wouldn’t be surprised if the current bottom three all end up safe. Wishful thinking, perhaps? Well, I’ll say we certainly haven’t seen the last of the drama this season.
Latics looked to be suffering the after effects of Sunday in the opening minutes, beginning quite sloppily, and things were about to get worse. Tom Clevelerley pulled up on eight minutes under pretty much no pressure, his hamstring seemingly giving way as he chased for the ball. Clev went straight down the tunnel, and ten-man Latics would come under immediate pressure from the hosts, who set about putting Kirkland and his fellow defenders under the cosh with some high crosses.
Mo Diame, who probably thought he was in for a nice rest on the sidelines this evening, was drafted into the action to restore Wigan’s roster for their first corner of the game. In fairness, they looked fairly lively despite a few misplaced passes and Hail Mary crosses, closing down the Bolton back line where possible and, for the most part, defending quite astutely.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Kevin Davies’ header came close to beating Chris Kirkland at his right hand post but his header was hampered by Zat Knight, who very helpfully pushed his own captain off-balance. As a result, Davies’ direction wasn’t quite as accurate as it could have been, and the ball sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Latics’ best chance came via a Hugo Rodallega free kick, which produced a decent save from Jääskeläinen on 30 minutes. That was pretty much it as far as Wigan opportunities came, and summed up a pretty misfiring first half in front of goal for both teams.
Wigan were really living dangerously at the start of the second half as Bolton came out strong, putting in three challenging balls in succession. The pressure eventually told on 54 minutes as Moreno slotted past Kirkland in the Latics net. The visitors were now in real trouble, struggling to create anything of note and, just like on Sunday, having to push hard to gain anything.
Wigan’s efforts were to be hampered by an injury to their keeper, Chris ‘Glass Back’ Kirkland, who had to be stretchered off on 60 minutes. After a good December, things seemed to be returning to normal with a now injury- and suspension-hit Wigan side facing a real challenge to haul themselves off the foot of the table.
Still, there was a good half hour left to play and you can’t ever really rule out an act of God, especially with the score still at 1–0. Heh, I bet Bolton wish they’d have taken out an extended insurance plan.
The next period of play was to prove slightly more promising, with our attacking football starting to take shape and an increasing amount of the game taking place in the Bolton half. The home side were still an ever-present threat, as you might expect, and forced Pollitt into a fine save as Johan Elmander looked to capitalise on a centre-defence mix up.
Just as things were looking bad, from out of nowhere came a Latics goal. No, really. After some good build-up play, Ronnie Stam pounced to equalise –his first league goal for the club– from inside the penalty area and shock the home crowd into near silence. All of a sudden the match kicked back into life, with both sides now challenging for useful, nay, crucial points. Wigan in particular were reinvigorated by their goal, as were their hardy travelling support, who’d remained surprisingly cheerful throughout the drudgery.
This resurgence didn’t last long, though. Mike Pollitt soon came under fire with the Trotters earning themselves a series of corners just as the fourth official signalled for an additional eight minutes of injury time. Bolton were now looking the more likely to score, and it was Wigan’s turn to put in the hard yards in their own penalty area. Once again, Pollitt was to be called upon to preserve Wigan’s point, making his finest save yet to deny Elmander from close range.
The chances really were raining in from the hosts but through a mixture of good (read: last-ditch) defending and poor finishing –Muamba being particularly guilty of this– Pollitt’s clean sheet remarkably remained intact through to the 98-minute mark. By hook or by crook, Wigan had salvaged a hard-earned point from the face of defeat, and you can only be happy considering how few chances we created.
Granted, it was better than Sunday, but not enough to garner three points away from home. Damage limitation successfully achieved, plaudits must go to 38-year old third choice Latics stalwart Michael Pollitt who surely won us a highly unlikely point, in the event. It keeps us off the bottom and in the hunt, with every single scraped draw set to be ever-so-crucial come May.