Wigan Athletic took another step towards promotion out of League 1 as they earnt a hard fought point at home to local rivals Bolton Wanderers in the lunch time kick off at the DW Stadium.
With the game falling immediately after an international break both sides were, on the whole, well rested and prepared for what promised to be a high intensity game where anything less than 100% commitment would not cut it.
Speaking of commitment, James McClean, Will Keane and Josh Magennis all featured for their countries during the international break but it didn’t stop them all starting the game for Latics. 1 change was made from the Morecambe game, with Callum Lang returning from suspension in place of Stephen Humprhys who took his place on the bench.
The start of the game was always going to be hectic and it felt as though whichever side managed the opening stages the best would go on to dominate. Almost immediately a committed tackle and run down the left hand side from James McClean set the tone for Latics and lifted the home fans, who created a brilliant early atmosphere.
The afore mentioned McClean was involved again in the early exchanges with Latics winning a couple of early corners and dangerous throw ins. Short corners for Wigan have an interesting history I think its fair to say, more often than not they come to absolutely nothing but they have also given us some iconic moments.
Shaun Maloney vs Man United, Jean Beausejour vs Derby County and now James McClean vs the enemy.
His cross/shot evaded everyone in the box and ended up in the back of the net to give the ROI international his 10th goal of the season and his 3rd against Bolton. It was no less than Latics deserved given the bright start we’d made and I think its fair to say the away side looked rattled early on.
Ian Evatt, who has become somewhat of a pantomime villain for Latics fans, was visibly irate on the touchline and that frantic body language seemed to be adopted by his players who were making mistake after mistake on the ball. They gave away possession in their own half fair too often and it gifted the home side territory and opportunities.
The main frustration for Latics is that none of these chances were taken. Too often these mistakes weren’t capitalised on with our forwards over playing in good areas and not pulling the trigger as often as they should’ve done. The best goal scoring chance of the game fell to goal scorer McClean but his shot from 12 yards flew just wide. Had that gone in it would’ve been game over.
The game changing moment came 16 minutes in when a soft yellow card was given to McClean for a foul on Dapo Afolayan. A foul yes, but a yellow card? It felt extremely harsh especially so early on in the game, and it really changed the complexion of the game.
Immediately the focus of Bolton’s attacks were pinpointed on McClean and he became extremely vulnerable. He wasn’t able to be as attacking as before given the risk of being caught out of position without the ability to make a tactical foul, and he wasn’t able to be totally committed defensively whilst on a caution either.
The talking point of the half came moments before half time when McClean fouled Afolayan yet again on the left hand side. Protests from Evatt and his players were exaggerated but understandable, but ultimately they were in vain as the referee let the 32 year old off.
Half time came at a good time for both sides. Latics had slowed down greatly after their fast start and Bolton, although performing slightly better for the last 10 minutes of the half, needed to regroup in the dressing room and make some changes.
Most people were surprised to see McClean emerge for the second half given his situation, especially with Joe Bennett available off the bench for a straight swap. My guess is Leam Richardson was hoping that continuity would see Latics through but it was the away side that began to take control of the game.
In attacking areas Latics failed to make use of Will Keane who really struggled to get the ball in dangerous areas. When he did get the ball he didn’t make much happen and seemed too keen on doing something unbelievable rather than simple and effective.
This pass map highlights just how withdrawn Keane was when in possession, it looks as though he was playing more as an 8 than a 10. I think this caused us to really struggle to get a grip on the game in the second half as our most creative player wasn’t getting much of the ball, and when he did it wasn’t in dangerous areas.
The match looked to be fizzling out into a 1-0 win for Latics with Bolton struggling to create anything substantial. Ian Evatt made early changes which added energy to their front line but similarly to the home side there wasn’t much in the way of creativity.
Eventually however there was a moment of quality that produced the equalising goal. A cross from Will Aimson was met well by Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and his flicked header nestled into the far corner, leaving Ben Amos with no chance. It’s hard to say it was totally undeserved but most people would agree they had looked completely toothless until that point.
Latics were left rueing their lack of cutting edge in the first half, where truth be told they could’ve put the game to bed. As Max Power touched on after the game though, once it gets to 1-1 late on it’s vital to make sure you don’t lose the game and we held on well.
Unfortunately for Wigan injury was added to insult in the latter stages. Curtis Tilt and James McClean both went down with injuries that forced them off the pitch and there are now question marks surrounding their availability for the run in. Hopefully both will be back fighting fit but neither looked in good shape, especially McClean who was seen leaving the ground on crutches.
Player of the Match
At risk of sounding like a broken record, the best player on the pitch yesterday was Latics’ midfielder Tom Naylor. The man who gets where water can’t, Naylor embodied everything you’d want from a player on derby day and his performance was deserving of much more than a draw.
With 16 ball recoveries, 9 of which made in Bolton’s half, Naylor was key in allowing Latics to dominate the early exchanges, and later on withstanding the Bolton onslaught. A key tackle just before the Bolton goal will go unnoticed but under different circumstances it would lauded as one of the greatest block tackles of all time.
Naylor, who was voted player of the month for March by Latics fans, proved yet again what a fantastic signing he’s been for our side and he will obviously be vital in the run in.
Both sides probably will settle for a point as neither did enough to totally deserve the win, but there is a feeling of 2 points drops for Latics. In what was probably our toughest fixture for a few weeks the chance was there to claim all 3 points, but the draw means the promotion race has become even tighter. Still though Latics are in the box seat, hopefully it stays that way.
We now look ahead to Accrington on Tuesday in what will be another tough North West derby, albeit less intense than Bolton. Nothing less than a win will do for Latics and if they play as they have done in recent weeks they’ll have a great chance of doing just that.