Fight back – Bolton and Villa mumblings

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Credit to Bolton and all that?  If you’re not convinced that I mean that, then it’s because I don’t.  Of course sides don’t win 4-0 without deserving some credit, but I’m from Wigan and it’s Bolton we’re talking about, so they get none.  At least that saves you from any ridiculous notions of Kevin Davies making the England squad, like international referees wouldn’t give a free kick against him every time he breathed out, most of them would be justified as well.

So no credit for Bolton, but neither am I going to pretend that Latics deserved too much from the game either.  Statistics may suggest otherwise, but they couldn’t have looked much further from the side that beat Liverpool on Monday night if they’d have stopped off at the Crawford Arms for a few pints with their pre-match meal.  Both managers would have been looking for a good reaction to their mid-week results, but only one of them got one.

I’ve wondered recently whether many of our newer fans realise the significance of games against Bolton.  It was the game in my formative supporting years where as a lot of people now will perhaps have got used to rivalries with Preston, Stoke or the like.  Of course Bolton love to insist that there’s no real rivalry, but deep down we all know, unless they’re after claiming Bury or someone.

I’m not sure how much of that transfers to the players.  You see them talking about derby games these days, but only as an after thought and that certainly showed in Latics performance on Saturday.  At least it did in comparison with Bolton’s.  Their players might be a bit more naturally ‘blood and thunder’ but that can’t be an excuse when the prize for victory is three point advantage on a relegation rival going into the home straight of a tough season.

Bolton played the game like they meant it, Latics like they were expecting something else and yet it could have been very different.  Early signs were that Roberto Martinez had found the chink in Bolton’s armour with blatant attempts to get Rodallega behind their centre halves and onto the keeper, and it worked.  Only for a clip and a shove from Zat Knight to bring and end to it, without the deserved penalty.   But that’s the end of the referee bashing…

… for a second.  Which is about as long as it took Mike Dean to rub it in a little more by allowing Kevin Davies to barge into Titus Bramble before climbing up his back to nod the ball down for “out of form” Johan Elmander, which is where the real story of the game kicked in.

Of course, you knew he was going to score at some point, it was as inevitable Benjani, Peter Crouch and the (seemingly) hundreds more that have broke the back of goalless runs against Latics, but you didn’t expect it to be off the back of a big ricket from our self appointed leader, Gary Caldwell.  It was the first of three (the other just being a common-or-garden mistake) on a torrid afternoon for the man who’s brought a bit of spirit to the side and with each mistake, some more of the spirit that allowed Latics to beat Liverpool last Monday got sucked out of his team mates.

And by the time Bolton’s second goal, a penalty that, because of Cohen’s over-egging, might not have been given on another day, hit the back of the net we were back to the ‘curl up and die’ Latics we hadn’t really seen since Old Trafford.  You sensed from that point that Bolton would run away with it and so they did and with every step Bolton took forward the Premier League horizon got further away for Latics.

But, and not for the first time, the 4-0 scoreline didn’t really reflect the balance of the game and if early proceedings had gone differently it could easily have been Latics that saw the balance tip their way.  That’s all ifs buts and maybes but the point is that, despite this game’s embarrassing ending, it shouldn’t have all been doom and gloom going into the Villa game. 

I’ll have to admit, I’ve no idea whether it was or not.  I deliberately avoided the internet between Saturday and Tuesday, was less than 100% health wise, too busy with work and tending to the poorly mini Perms.  Basically I had better things to think about than whether Latics were able to overcome the mental drain of Saturday’s result to get in a performance that could stop any rot that losing so significantly to local rivals might bring.

Still, even before the Bolton game, Tuesday night’s game had all the hallmarks of going nowhere other than down to the bookies to collect on an away banker.  Ok so Martin O’Neill might never have inspired Villa to three points in a March game, but Latics have a record for busting that type of precedent, and the visitors will have had plenty to prove after Latics opening day victory.

Not least that they didn’t have the soft centre that many claimed was exposed back in August.  That task fell to James Milner, whose England claims are a little more realistic than Kevin Davies’, and he took to the task with relish, making the difference and providing that extra dash of quality that Latics ultimately failed to find as they struggled to break down a resolute Villa defence.

“A good game of football, spoiled by a bad referee” was how the post match text messages summarised Latics’ efforts in this game.  That’s about right too, if you were the strange sort of neutral who would abandon ‘The Return of Jose’ for a Tuesday night at the DW.  Both sides had a go, creating plenty of half chances at either end and whilst I’ve no illusions over who was the better team, the suggestion that a draw could have been a fairer result isn’t the daftest thing I’ve ever heard.

Regardless of the result against Villa, you have to applaud Latics for the Spirit that they showed from the kick-off, but also in reaction to going behind, twice.  The imbalance in quality is hardly surprising given the relative positions of the two teams.  But you can’t question that Latics, and Caldwell in particular, showed the required level of grit to win back some of the confidence that they’d gained from the Liverpool result and lost on Saturday.

In conclusion, Latics had played 3 games in just over a week that beforehand you’d have expected at most four points from.  If last Monday afternoon you’d been told you’d see a hammering, a hard fought defeat and a hard fought win, then you’d be happy.  The results didn’t come in the right games which wouldn’t have been such a problem at other times in the season, but the three points that Bolton gained at our expense were more than had we given them to either Villa or Liverpool.

But neither were the end of the world, after these three games Latics still have a tiny cushion, things are still in their own hands.  What they need now is another relegation six-pointer but one that’s more likely to go the right way, home against someone like Burnley.  What?  Oh, right!  Bring on the claret!

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