Bolton Wanderers 4 Wigan Athletic 1: Bruce alarmed as woeful Wigan gift Bolton victory

Click to follow
The Independent Football

After all his chairman's talk of how he will be an alchemist, here was the more prosaic reality of how life is going to be from now on for Steve Bruce in wind-blasted Lancashire. He and Gary Megson, the other nerve-shredded newcomer to these parts, fretted alongside each other for about 70 minutes of a game in which the importance of the points drained all colour from what was supposed to be a local derby. And then all the suspense was gone; erased by defending which was anathema to a man like Bruce and gifted Bolton every one of their four goals.

"The table doesn't lie," Bruce said. "The reason I'm sitting here is because we've only taken one point in 10 [games]. It's an alarming stat and we've got to turn that around very quickly."

His mood will not have been brightened by the fact that Bolton were, themselves, considerably less than fluent. Aware before they ran out of Middlesbrough's heroics against Arsenal, Megson conceded that nerves affected his side. "It's more difficult playing football towards the bottom of the league," he said. Young midfielder Danny Guthrie was outstanding and Kevin Nolan put in a major shift but otherwise Megson put it well when he said that this had been "what you would expect of a typical derby between two teams who are not doing particularly brilliant".

Yet when a team is gifting opponents as many opportunities as Wigan, fluency is not a prerequisite. Bruce was a minute into his new Wigan career when Titus Bramble handed Manchester City a goal last week and this week's culprit was Paul Scharner hardly Bruce's flavour of the month after his decision last week to question the manager's route one approach who took three minutes to direct El-Hadji Diouf's cross into his own net after Nolan had jumped for and missed it. Little wonder he knelt with his head in his hands for some time.

Bolton showed they can do abysmal defending, too. Abdoulaye Meit's poor, backheeled clearance let Denny Landzaat place the loose ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen with a flourish. But when Emile Heskey missed Nicolas Anelka's cross from the right, Nolan backheeled the ball in to restore the lead and had Anelka had not missed a penalty, it might have been worse.

Bruce proved he has the inspirational qualities his chairman Dave Whelan speaks of when he roused his team into a rally early in the second half an "iffy" period, Megson admitted with Jaaskelainen preserving the lead. The Finn also saved brilliantly from Marcus Bent's header and parried Antonio Valencia's shot.

But then, with Kevin Davies using the space Wigan permitted him on the right flank, the visitors' frailties were laid bare. Emmerson Boyce had cleared off the line from the unmarked Diouf's free header before a feckless attempt to clear Diouf's free-kick allowed Davies to saunter in and score. Anelka was also unmarked when he wrapped things up.

There was more rousing shouts for the man who Bolton, like Leicester before, has come to call the "Ginger Mourinho" and the words "Are you watching Allardyce?" also rang out towards the end but Bolton are still only a point above the relegation zone. It's going to be a long, hard winter in Lancashire.

Goals: Scharner og (3) 1-0; Landzaat (23) 1-1; Nolan (36) 2-1; Davies (70) 3-1; Anelka (89) 4-1.

Bolton Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Meite, O'Brien, Gardner; Campo (Speed, 90); Nolan (Stelios, 90) Guthrie, Davies, Diouf (McCann, 80); Anelka. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi, Michalik.

Wigan Athletic Kirkland; Boyce, Granqvist, Bramble, Kilbane; Valencia, Landzaat, Bramble, Scharner; Bent, Heskey (Brown, 75). Substitutes not used: Poillitt (gk), Taylor, Cotterill, Skoko.

Referee: M Atkinson (Leeds)

Booked: Bolton: O'Brien, Guthrie Wigan: Valencia

Man of the match: Kevin Davies.

Attendance: 20,309