Third-placed Bolton's ambitions were thwarted by their Lancashire neighbours, whose admirably hard-working performance in defence gained the substantial bonus of a late goal to inflict a home defeat on Sam Allardyce's team for the second Saturday running.
Allardyce was looking for a response from his players to the drubbing by Manchester United a week earlier, insisting they watch the video of United's 4-0 triumph in the hope they would be inspired. Instead, an ineffective afternoon's work was made worse when the Wigan substitute Lee McCulloch struck a 79th-minute goal to clinch a third consecutive win for Paul Jewell's team.
The Bolton manager conceded that his side's form has dipped - this was their third defeat in a row - but was disappointed to see what he believed to be a legitimate goal ruled out in the first half. It came when Stelios Giannakopoulos ran on to a Kevin Davies pass from an onside position only to be denied because of an offside flag against El Hadji Diouf.
"It was frustrating because it was the moment of quality we needed and under the offside law as it stands Diouf was simply not offside," Allardyce said. "It wasn't the sole reason we lost the game but it was a part of it." Just as much a reason, Allardyce admitted, was Bolton's failure to take their chances. Sparse though they were for both sides, Bolton had the best before McCulloch's goal and it highlighted the frustration growing around Nicolas Anelka.
If anything stops Bolton from advancing their status further it is their continuing lack of success in finding a striker to deliver the goals that a high-achieving team needs from at least one front man. The £8 million investment in Anelka was designed to solve that conundrum yet the Frenchman has still to score in nine Premiership appearances. He should have broken his duck yesterday after Diouf set him clear. Anelka had only Chris Kirkland to beat but sent his shot high and wide.
Davies headed a Gary Speed corner just the wrong side of the left-hand post early in the second half but Wigan had defenders positioned on both uprights anyway and the further the contest progressed the more their resolutely defensive approach frustrated the home side.
By the midway point of the second period, Wigan had adjusted to the first-half loss of Emile Heskey and Shaun Teale and were mounting an increasing threat, particularly through the pace of Henri Camara.
Indeed, Camera played a key role in setting up the winning goal for McCulloch, exchanging passes with Kevin Kilbane before Kilbane's sideways pass across the edge of the penalty area teed up the Wigan substitute to drive the ball home inside the right-hand post.Reuse content