Bit of a fractured week, this, with FA Cup, Premier League, Champions League and Europa games all thrown into the mix spanning a seven day period. For Latics, however, the equation was rather simple: win tonight and face another Cup match against Fulham on Sunday. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
Though Martinez was keeping his usual straight-laced, straight-faced perspective on a potential week of FA Cup ties, you just know that, deep down, he would have preferred to give his players a two week rest in preparation for the Premier League battles to come. I mean, come on. He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t see this week as even a little bit of a hindrance to Latics’ survival aspirations.
Of course, it offered yet another opportunity for the likes of Adrian Lopez, Daniel Redmond and Callum McManaman to get some first team action against Premier League opposition, and by itself you’d think that’s a good thing. Perhaps it may turn out to be, who knows? Maybe Macca will be sticking a hat trick past Stoke on the final day of the season to keep us in the Prem for another season. Maybe Conor Sammon is the 600,000 Dollar Man to replace a radically off-the-pace Mauro Boselli and will grab ten goals between now and May? Perhaps, but he was ineligible for today so we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see him.
However, with our league position looking rather precarious –to the point your heart begins to sink when you see the league table– one can’t help but view tonight’s game as a mildly unwelcome distraction. A bit like Michael McIntyre, only much less irritating and, most of the time, infinitely more humorous. Well, maybe less so now Titus Bramble has left, but I suppose that cat mascot thing is always good for a laugh – looks like he learned his moves from JJ.
It’s going to take something special, a winning run the likes of which we haven’t seen under Martinez thus far, for us to emerge from this pickle with our heads intact. Forget all that just now, though. Tonight was about the regular bench-warmers and eager second-teamers getting a good run out, which they certainly did. Gary Caldwell and Momo Diame were the only survivors from the starting XI that ground out a 1–1 draw with Liverpool on Saturday with Watson, Moses and McCarthy taking their seats on the subs bench. The rest would receive a well-earned rest, which will be vital for the difficult run of fixtures to come… yeesh, I don’t even want to think about them.
Wanderers, too, sported changes: they made six alterations to the team that conquered Everton on Sunday afternoon, though admittedly two were enforced. Still, they started the stronger and had the ball in the Latics net on three minutes, only for Johann Elmander to be ruled offside, much to the relief of Mike Pollitt. It was a good indication of the run of play, however. Klasnic and Petrov both had opportunities within the first ten minutes of kickoff as the penned the Latics in their own half, dominating possession on a less than perfect playing surface.
It took them 25 minutes, but the hosts finally started to find their feet. Well, kind of, because nothing of note would transpire. Jordi Gomez did have a pop at a 30-odd yard free kick… with hilarious (predictable?) consequences, prompting jeers from a vociferous Bolton faithful in the North Stand (and no doubt groans from one or two Wigan fans). At the very least Wigan were clawing back some possession, and threatening to cause the odd problem for Cahill and Robinson, Franco Di Santo and Callum McManaman in the wars as they put themselves about in the Bolton third. Unfortunately, Mac would have to be withdrawn as Fabrice Muamba drew claret, paving the way for another Victor Moses substitute appearance.
Both teams were equally guilty of lacking that finishing touch in much the same manner as their previous cup tie, and indeed all encounters this season. Ivan Klasnic did his best to break this run of three draws between the sides when one-on-one with Mike Pollitt in the 29th minute, only to see his shot blocked by the Bolton-born Latics stalwart.
After another failed Gomez free kick, Pollitt was forced into another save, this time from Petrov, but it wasn’t anything too difficult. Minutes later, though, Bolton were unlucky not go 1–0 ahead as Elmander hit the post from distance: his free kick somehow evaded all in its path to deflect off the keeper’s left hand upright and run almost adjacent to the Wigan goal line on its way out of play. This –along with Klasnic’s 29th minute chance– represented the best of the game’s opportunities as the players consumed their half time satsumas in the safety of the dressing rooms.
Seemingly content with knocking chunks out of each other rather than taking control of this contest, the sides traded blows – figuratively, of course, though Sam Ricketts would beg to differ. He had to be stretchered off on 56 minutes after falling awkwardly whilst chasing Victor Moses.
Soon after, however, the game would be shook to life, albeit briefly, by Ivan Klasnic on 66 as Bolton’s pressure finally told. At 1–0 to Bolton, Latics would have to conjure something if they were to avoid defeat here, and almost did just two minutes later when Jordi Gomez hit the bar. It was the closest Wigan had come and provided hope that this contest wouldn’t simply peter out in Wanderers’ favour.
Victor Moses was looking lively as usual, but was guilty of falling over his own feet on more than one occasion, proving a substantial stumbling block as his side pushed for the equaliser. They tried their best, but for the most part could not find that extra something to put pressure on Adam Bogdan, and the Trotters would see out the remaining time with relative ease. Too much ease, perhaps?
On the plus side, we were spared the potential torture of extra time in a game dominated by Bolton, and earned ourselves a weekend off. Something of a bittersweet deal, maybe, as it’s a pity we won’t see much more of Callum McManaman for the remainder of this season. Ultimately, it was likely this second string Latics side would come away worse off in this tie, and perhaps Martinez, ever the clever Trevor, knew it all along. Sunday afternoon on Blackpool beach, anyone?