MONDAY MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1
DESPITE the late drama, this still felt like daylight-saving robbery in the first degree.
Adam Bogdan may have preserved a point with a magical penalty save – but wind the clock back 10 minutes and Wanderers were in the midst of one of their best home performances all season.
Of the 15 draws that Dougie Freedman’s side has chalked up, few were more fiercely contested, few game-plans more perfectly executed.
“The intensity and power Bolton put on us, we couldn’t cope with it,” Uwe Rosler admitted after the final whistle – a fairly definitive statement from a man not prone to hyperbole.
He was right; Wanderers were well worth the 1-0 lead given to them by Lukas Jutkiewicz’s sixth strike in 12 starts and had it not been for Ali Al-Habsi it would have been a good few more.
It was made all the more impressive considering three guaranteed starters – Mark Davies, Joe Mason and Neil Danns – had pulled out within 24 hours of kick-off for reasons of illness or injury.
But two of the late replacements – Liam Trotter and Rob Hall – more than held their own against a very classy Wigan midfield.
Trotter had what is referred to in the trade as a ‘mare in his last appearance at the Reebok against Brighton. This was much more like it.
Hall was beginning to gain mythical status on the terraces as the signing they hardly ever see but here the former West Ham youngster showed he has the heart to go with his talent.
Yes, the Whites let themselves down in the last 10 minutes. A change of system, which saw Alex Baptiste come on to play in front of the back four, backfired a little on Dougie Freedman, who was trying to find an answer to the threat added when Rosler introduced Nick Powell and Callum McManaman from the bench.
Powell’s equaliser was barely deserved but expertly taken. Wanderers lost Jean Beausejour on the left and his cut back into the penalty box was slammed home by the Manchester United loanee with deadly precision.
If that felt like a kick in the pants, what followed two minutes later was much, much worse.
The hapless Baptiste had incurred the manager’s wrath when he conceded a penalty at Yeovil, accompanied by a red card. A penny for Freedman’s innermost thoughts when the same man conceded possession on half way and allowed Wigan to attack late on, a mistake then compounded by a trip on McManaman for the penalty.
Thankfully, Bogdan bailed out his team-mate with a save from the very top drawer from Jordi Gomez’s penalty.
There was a time when the mere presence of Jussi Jaaskelainen could trigger doubt in a penalty taker’s mind.
Bogdan worked with the Big Finn for a good few years and it seems he has inherited a few of those traits.
In this kind of form, keeping hold of the Hungary international over the summer may not be a simple task.
Freedman will certainly be taking notes with next season in mind, and the number of missed opportunities cannot fail to be a cause for concern.
Al-Habsi was in top form on his return to the Reebok. Both sets of fans claimed him as their own – but for “a White” the Oman international was doing a pretty good job for the boys in blue.
The Latics keeper twice denied Tim Ream his first-ever Wanderers goal, but also produced important stops from Jay Spearing, Rob Hall and David Wheater.
While there is little you can do with a keeper in that kind of form, chances that fell to Chung-Yong Lee, Jermaine Beckford and Andre Moritz should definitely have been converted. The Whites were guilty of taking the extra touch in and around the penalty box at times. And in the end, their failure to build on a one-goal advantage cost them.
Jutkiewicz took his goal well, poking a fine free kick from Rob Hall inside the far post, and got a standing ovation from the Reebok crowd when he was substituted late on.
Whether Wanderers are able to muster enough cash to make Middlesbrough listen in the summer and make his move a permanent one remains to be seen. But judging by the word on the terraces, his arrival would be every bit as celebrated as Jay Spearing’s was at the start of this season.
While the Whites continued to play off Jutkiewicz and create chances, Wigan’s threats were few and far between until the last 10 minutes of the game.
Once McManaman and Powell were on the pitch the Latics looked much more like the side that has surged up the table since the start of the year.
Bogdan had warmed himself up for his penalty heroics with a fine save under his own bar from Powell’s header and another brave effort at the feet of Marc-Antoine Fortune.
The back four had looked comfortable up until the final stages, and another competent performance from Alan Hutton may be food for thought.
Freedman wants to extend the Scotland international’s loan but is currently struggling to muster the right finances to keep him until the end of the season.
Cash may also be a deciding factor in the future of Zat Knight, who has finished the season playing his best football in some time.
There is clearly still a lot of work for Freedman to do this summer but with safety all but secured, he now has the luxury of a seven-game cushion to sort out some fine details.
Time is a commodity few managers get – but the Wanderers boss has a few weeks to sort out what he really needs to recruit this summer.