Wigan 1-3 Bolton: One step forward, three back

Alcaraz and Caldwell

No laughing matter: A defensive disaster for Wigan

Hmm… how to dissect this one? Best to start with good news and build up to the disappointing parts, otherwise one might become too depressed to even hit the ‘read more’ link. Yep, positive points are always a good hook. Happily, the ‘preview‘ I posted two days ago transpired to be a tad erroneous: both Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega, who many expected to be sidelined for at least a month, returned to the first team this afternoon. Home fans were cheered by the return of Alcaraz to his familiar position in the centre of defence, while Hugo occupied the bench as the tried-and-tested 4-5-1 was once again how Latics lined up.

In other changes, Steve Gohouri was reinstated to the left hand side of defence in favour of Patrick van Aanholt and Maynor Figueroa. David Jones also made the starting lineup ahead of an injured(?) Ronnie Stam while Mike Pollitt took up the role of sub keeper in the absence of an on-loan Chris Kirkland. I’d rather not speak of his Doncaster début, which saw him concede three goals at home to Leeds, but I guess I already have so we shall switch subjects to today’s game as soon as possible.

Wigan picked up where they left off before the international break and conceded on 4 minutes, Nigel Reo Coker just beating Caldwell to tap the ball past Al Habsi for a relatively soft opener. This characterised the early stages, when Latics could not gain any sort of foothold whatsoever and a nervy backline were forced to pass in and around their own penalty area. Bolton gleefully capitalised upon this defensive lapse and any confidence regained in two weeks’ break was quickly eroded as Wanderers fans simply kicked back, lit up a cigar and ordered the Port. Well, I think that’s what they must drink up Horwich way. For the hosts, it certainly was not the best of starts.

Latics gradually began to scrape some possession, the centre of midfield seeing its fair share of action as Ben Watson found his hands (and feet) well and truly full. Though things were at times painfully slow –the old ‘eleven midfielders’ tactic was out in force for good chunks of the first half– the home side began to carve out some half chances. Franco Di Santo was up to his old tricks in the opposition half, trying to unsettle the defence and win the odd Kevin Davies-esque free kick, much to the dismay of the Bolton faithful.

A period of Latics dominance culminated in a superbly taken goal on 40 minutes from Mohamed Diame. Jussi Jaaskelainen could do nothing but watch the Senegalese international’s strike curl into the top left hand corner of his goal. Was Wigan’s losing run about to be ended? Well, there were a whole fifty minutes to play, and any points were certainly not ensured – far from it, in fact. Looking back, I wish Mike Dean could have called a halt to the contest there and then, because then began the rot.

Wigan’s negativity came back to bite them in the bottom once again, Steve Gohouri fatally mucking around close to his own goal. I sincerely hope Kevin Davies thanked him for that, as it truly was a Christmas gift two months early. Al Habsi got a hand to N’gog’s subsequent strike, but could not stop it from finding the back of the South Stand net. Just when you thought things were finally starting to turn in Wigan’s favour, this was a real blow right on the half time whistle and another one in the eye for the slow, deliberate buildup from deep in one’s own penalty area.

Gohouri must have got a proper grilling at the break, as he did not emerge for the second half. Maynor Figueroa replaced him while Hugo Rodallega was also introduced, Ben Watson the unlucky soul to make way.

Wigan really came at the Trotters in the opening stages of the second period, the Colombian comeback kid adding a much-needed extra dimension to the hosts’ attack. Franco Di Santo finally had someone to help him in his previously fruitless endeavours and initially seemed to revel in this fact. Victor Moses, too, continued to make headway with some runs at the Bolton’s defensive line. Sadly, these were usually limited to forays across field outside the opposition area and though they did create some more half chances and win the odd free kick, they scarcely caused Jaaskelainen any problems.

Ali Al Habsi

Ali Al Habsi's second half penalty save was not enough for Latics

The game started to follow a familiar formula as Wigan gradually ran out of juice in both attack and midfield. Wanderers experienced their best spell of the match approximately 20 minutes from time, a period from which they could potentially have emerged with three goals. Dedryck Boyata missed perhaps the best chance of the half so far, firing his header wide of Al Habsi’s left hand post.

When the Wigan keeper palmed clear Kevin Davies’s penalty, the home side must have thought this to be their lucky day. Caldwell had conceded the spot-kick, pushing the aforementioned Boyata to the ground and earning himself a yellow card in the process. Davies’s attempt, however, wasn’t so great and the Latics faithful, knowing they had been let off in a massive way, breathed once again.

Any chance of a comeback was neutralised by a general clumsiness and inability to complete passes in the frantic search for an equaliser. Not even the introduction of Shaun Maloney and a shock switch to 4-4-2 had much impact as the chances simply fizzled out. Victor Moses did threaten with but minutes remaining by flashing a powerful strike across the face of Jaaskelainen’s goal, while Franco Di Santo seemed highly disappointed as he went tantalisingly close to putting one away at the back post. It all proved to be academic, however, as Chris Eagles put the result beyond any doubt with a third for the visitors as the game ticked into stoppage time. Guess how? Yep, another defensive mistake, this time from Alcaraz, and a goal which typified the whole afternoon for Wigan.

Made it to this point? Have a Nutri Grain on me! Anyhow, it was a defensive disaster for Wigan, who are experiencing some real problems at the back. The optimist (not myself at this moment in time) might claim things are slooowly improving in other areas, but an unspeakable record in the last six games which has seen us leak more than a shower pipe bodge job is damning. While my bathroom can be sorted for less than a hundred quid, it’s gonna take a fair bit more than that to patch up this particular problem.

Oh, and a couple of final points. Remember when I predicted there would be few yellow cards? Well, I was also wildly incorrect there, as four representatives from each team entered Mike Dean’s little black book and we could easily have seen a red this afternoon. Chalk that up as another bad piece of prophecising – at this rate I could make a great fairground fortune teller. This encounter was a might spicier than I expected, with Bolton coming out on top because they played the game as a proper Lancashire derby should be – physically and with some of that good old northern grit so many stereotypical Yorkshiremen are keen on blabbing on about. I’m not entirely sure what it is myself, but for all our own shortcomings, Bolton certainly had tons more of it.

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