FULL TIME: Wanderers 0 Brighton 2
WANDERERS’ run of decent form faded out with a whimper as their dismal record against Brighton continued.
Two goals from Will Buckley – rejected at the age of 15 by Bolton –settled a cat-and-mouse affair in front of a subdued Reebok crowd.
Wanderers have won just twice in 12 attempts against Brighton in league football and, in truth, they never did enough to look like they could stretch their unbeaten run to six games here.
Freedman has warned that this could be a game of chess – and his prediction was clearly right from the off. He had altered the shape of his side to mirror that of Brighton, with Joe Mason playing a deeper role, with mixed results.
Possession was traded slowly and carefully between the two sides for the opening 10 minutes, with Adam Bogdan’s only nervous moment coming when a deep Stephen Ward cross threatened to drift over his head.
The Whites looked quite sprightly going forward, only to find Brighton’s defence in no mood to give away a cheap goal.
Gordon Greer made one fine block on Lukas Jutkiewicz, while his left-back Ward performed something similar when Joe Mason turned a shot towards goal 12 minutes in.
Just 60 seconds later and Brighton had conjured an opening goal.
Leonardo Ulloa was afforded plenty of space to whip a cross into the near post, and while Bogdan did well to block Buckley’s first effort, he will be frustrated that the former Bolton youth was first to react turning to plant a second shot past the Hungarian into the top corner.
It felt harsh on Wanderers at the time, but Ulloa nearly made things worse immediately when he headed over from Buckley’s cross.
To their credit, the Whites worked hard to get themselves back into the game but found the going tough against a side who have been notoriously difficult to score against this season.
Tomasz Kuszczak was in top form, pushing over a dipping effort from Alex Baptiste and then making a fingertip save from Medo Kamara, whose curling shot from the edge of the box was destined for the top corner.
The Pole also beat away a crashing header from David Wheater and another effort from Spearing before the end of the half, by which time a steady flow of mis-placed passes had raised the frustration levels around the stadium.
Liam Trotter hadn’t enjoyed a good first half but he got a golden chance to redeem himself immediately after the restart when Tim Ream played a superb ball into his path. Unfortunately, Trotter elected to take the shot on right-footed and his effort skewed woefully wide.
Mason then blasted a shot agonisingly across goal before Freedman made a change from the bench, bringing on Rob Hall for his first taste of action since December 29.
Wanderers thought they had grabbed an equaliser on the hour when Chung-Yong Lee’s shot was turned in from close range by Mason – but while the stadium tannoy blasted out the celebratory goal music, the linesman had spoiled the party by raising his flag.
The game opened up and Bolton-born Dale Stephens nearly grabbed a second when the goal opened up for him, Bogdan making a fine save low to his left.
It proved only a temporary respite for Wanderers, as soon after, Tim Ream was caught flat-footed when Medo had made a sprawling tackle on Jake Caskey, leaving Buckley to out-pace the American and place a cool finish past Bogdan.
Freedman brought Andre Moritz on for the ineffectual Chung-Yong Lee, but like Hall, he too struggled to impact upon the game.
Brighton had drawn the sting right out of the match and Freedman’s last throw of the dice was to throw Neil Danns into the action for David Wheater and move to a back three.
There were a few half-chances towards the end as Hall heading a chipped cross from Moritz into the side netting and Danns headed wide unchallenged from eight yards out.
But the game petered out in the same passive fashion it had been played in for the most part, leaving the few fans who had stayed behind to the bitter end to register their discontent at the final whistle.