With the Premier League (quite obviously) a massive priority, Latics made eight changes to the starting lineup for this ‘big’ local derby (as the Wigan Evening Post termed it), and they don’t come much bigger than Bolton. Well, maybe Preston. Or any of the Manchester Clubs. In terms of match practice, anyway, today’s game was a useful opportunity to blood some youngsters and new boys.
Most notably, Callum McManaman assumed the centre forward position, reprising his role from the Third Round tie at Hull. Diame, too, returned in the centre of midfield, as did James McArthur, who this week hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. You could say he was lucky not to hit anything else, but that would be somewhat irrelevant to today’s tie. McCarthy, Rodallega, N’Zogbia and a whole host of others were rested for the even bigger game against West Brom at the Hawthorns on Tuesday evening.
Wigan were slow to get off the mark and came under immediate pressure, Johan Elmander putting the ball over the bar via a Gary Caldwell –returning after a one-match ban– block after just ten seconds of the game. Very soon after, Victor Moses, also back in the side after a lengthy injury layoff, found himself through with a superb chance but only succeeded in finding the side netting. Bit of a dodgy moment for the Trotters, but a slightly rusty Moses was always going to struggle to put the ball in from such a narrow angle.
The visitors were looking a bit nervy, especially Adrian Lopez, facing Premier League opposition for the first time. But things settled down at the back as Victor Moses set about looking to make inroads, creating a couple of good chances and squeezing out the odd corner. In a good spell of pressure from Latics, Momo Diame won his side a free kick just yards from the Bolton area, the resulting Jordi Gomez shot easily saved by Jaaskelainen. Just seconds later, McManaman found himself with a superb chance created by Moses, but a fantastic last-ditch Robinson block thwarted his efforts to keep the score at 0-0.
At the other end, Bolton had chances of their own but Farnworth-born Mike Pollitt, deputising in the forced absence of Al Habsi, claimed all with relative comfort. On other occasions, Caldwell managed to get the big boot in and command the centre of defence with authority. Well, as much as Caldwell can, anyway. The hosts’ own defensive partnership, débutante Wheater and Zat Knight, looked to be struggling against a very lively Moses in what was becoming an open contest. The only thing preventing a goal was that finishing touch, which both sides were guilty of at various points of the half.
Diame and Moses continued to trouble, the latter in particular offering a dimension we could well have done with in the last month or two. As the half enetered its later stages, the full backs looked to push Bolton towards their own goal in a similar fashion to the last ten minutes against Villa in midweek. At times this proved risky, with the hosts looking to break from most set pieces, but on the whole it served Latics well despite the lack of a goal.
You could sense frustration creeping into the Bolton faithful as the second half began. A booking for David Wheater did nothing to prevent this, and for the first time the Latics supporters began to find their voice, belting out the odd ‘Blue White Army’ and rendition of You Are my Sunshine. Their side won a couple of free kicks around the Bolton area, the first leading to a comfortable save, but Watson had Jaaskelainen scrambling for the second. Wigan were starting to boss possession, and drew a string of fouls, but the resultant free kicks largely petered out.
In an attempt to turn things around, Coyle made a double change, 19 year old Rodrigo Moreno –who scored against us earlier this month— and Robbie Blake replacing Matthew Taylor and Martin Petrov on 61 minutes. It seemed to have some effect, with the hosts enjoying a good spell around the 70 minute mark, but once again cutting edge in the final third proved a problem.
Latics made their own changes, the ‘rested’ Di Santo and McCarthy introduced to the piece for a still not fully fit(?) Moses and McArthur. Their first task was to help defend a Robbie Blake free kick, which went wide of Pollitt’s right hand post. Mr Graham Lovett of Latics Official assures me he had it covered all the way, and I have to take his word for it.
With no Victor Moses to threaten, the tables were now turned and it was Bolton’s turn to press, Caldwell and Lopez creeping further and further back. Up to this point Mike Pollitt had never really been challenged, testament to the Latics defence but also the hosts’ finishing as David Wheater missed the target from a Blake corner.
With but seconds of the game remaining, Latics won a free kick just on the edge of the area. Jordi Gomez drew a save from Jasskelainen, the resultant corner, which was easily cleared, proving the final action of the game.
And so we see a replay on Wednesday 16 February at the DW, perhaps always the most likely outcome of this game on the evidence of recent results, coming to fruition. A definite plus point will be Moses’ performance on the left wing, where he caused problems throughout the first half. It is true that this threat died out somewhat, but then it was his first game for a couple of months. Callum McManaman was also promising once again, and could possibly have grabbed a goal for his troubles. Adrian Lopez and Gary Caldwell had decent games, whilst Diame was instrumental to most Wigan did right in the first 45.
Much to ponder, but I shouldn’t think it’d have too much impact on Martinez’ starting XI for Tuesday. I think Moses will make the bench and no doubt see some action at some point in the 90, but there’s a question over who will populate the midfield with many stating their case. Watch this space.