HE was the most popular man at the Reebok, adored by both sets of fans, so no wonder Ali Al-Habsi stayed diplomatic after Saturday’s derby ended in a draw.
The Oman international was serenaded by all four sides of the ground at varying stages of the afternoon – and was happy to keep the peace when asked for his views on the day’s most controversial moment.
Leon Barnett looked lucky to escape a red card when he tripped Liam Trotter as he closed in on Al-Habsi’s goal on 52 minutes.
“Sometimes it is difficult for a referee to make a decision,” the former Whites keeper said.
“Don’t forget I was very close to the ball even if Barnett hadn’t got in. Maybe that’s why he changed his mind. I think it was the right decision.”
Al-Habsi may be wearing the colours of Wigan these days but he does still have fond memories of his time at the Reebok – in particular his memorable run as Jussi Jaaskelainen’s deputy at the tail end of the 2007/8 season.
“I am always very happy when I come back to Bolton and get such a great reception,” he said.
“I have a great relationship with both sets of fans. I didn’t play that many games here; around 10 games in the league. But the fans always remember those 10 games because we did well and stayed in the league.”
Back when Al-Habsi was plying his trade at the Reebok, Adam Bogdan was a fresh-faced youngster still coming to terms with life in English football. And the Latics keeper is pleased to see his former team-mate take centre stage with his late penalty save.
“I know Adam well, we trained together and he is very good saving penalties,” Al-Habsi added.
“But it was a superb save; the way he got to the ball. It was a top, top save.”