Phil Parkinson’s side headed for Wigan desperate to collect three points to lessen the gap to safety but an insipid display means that gap now seems a vast, yawning chasm, with Wanderers floundering horribly.
On paper the 5-2 defeat suggests Bolton are a team grasping for form, confidence and hope. But the reality is they were soundly beaten by a Wigan team that had not had a victory since the first weekend of February.
Victory eased the pressure on under-fire manager Paul Cook, whose team climbed to 19th, albeit still only three points above the bottom three.
His opposite number Parkinson was subjected to calls for him to go, the chants getting louder with each goal Wigan grabbed, and cut a desolate figure on the touchline, drenched by the rain and frustrated with his players’ shortcomings.
While Latics ran riot, Bolton simply folded in a second half badly missing the energy, drive and intensity their coaching staff had called for in the build-up.
The Whites made three changes from the team starting the midweek defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, with Andy Taylor, Clayton Donaldson and Will Buckley in for Sammy Ameobi, Craig Noone and Pawel Olkowski.
Lowe had been deployed at right-back with the Pole, subject to a fitness test shortly before the game, only deemed fit enough for the bench.
But he was called into action far earlier than Parkinson had planned, with Lowe going down – and trudging off – having been able to make just one contribution in his eight-minute appearance, around half of which was spent on the turf.
His challenge on Michael Jacobs earned him a yellow card and set up the hosts’ opening goal with just four minutes played.
While Reece James’ free kick was delivered superbly, the ease with which Joe Garner stole in to nod past the helpless Remi Matthews was a cause for grave concern.
Wigan left-back Antonee Robinson had been a terrific signing for Bolton last season, and his pace, eagerness to attack and understanding with Jacobs meant Wigan had plenty of joy down their left flank. It was Nick Powell, though, who set ‘Jedi’ up for a fine chance late in the half, Matthews getting down to stretch out a firm hand and turn the ball around his near post.
There were occasional flashes from Bolton that gave their vocal backing reason to be cheerful. Callum Connolly got to a Gary O’Neil corner, only to clear the bar with his finish, and Joe Williams was keen to try his luck with a couple of shots from distance but no breakthrough was coming.
Behind at half time, there was still a sense they could get back into the match.
Those hopes, however, dissipated shortly after the restart. There was a touch of good fortune favouring the hosts when Gavin Massey doubled the lead. Powell’s through-ball took Mark Beevers out of the equation and sent him in on goal and when he fired at goal, the merest of touches from the sliding Jack Hobbs gave Matthews no time to react, the ball clipping the inside of the near post on its way in.
Wigan were barely in need of a helping hand, but Matthews offered up their third goal on a silver platter, unaware of the dangerous Jacobs lurking over his shoulder. Looking to gain a few extra yards on a routine clearance he rolled the ball perfectly for Jacobs to pounce, squaring for Powell, who had the simplest of finishes. Three-nil and Wanderers staring their latest defeat in the face, with more than half an hour yet to endure.
It is hope, rather than disappointment, that kills you, and when Gary O’Neil pounced on a loose ball in the Latics box to make it 3-1, some salvation was, however unlikely, still a remote possibility.
In fairness, there was a degree of life from the visitors at this point with Ameobi, on for Donaldson, sending a vicous corss-shot across the face of Christian Walton’s goal and Olkowski adjusting well to at least get a shot away once Buckley’s cross had looped up off a defender.
Jacobs killed things off 20 minutes from time with a wonderful finish, just seconds after Matthews had denied him at short range, the Wigan man making the most of his second bite at the cherry with a fine strike into the top corner.
Ameobi may have given the socreline a touch of respectability with Wanderers’ second goal, finishing off after a Josh Magennis header was blocked but even the most optimistic of Bolton fans could not have expected this to be anything but a consolation.
The Whites have been through numerous false dawns this term. The win against Millwall, for instance, was followed up with a defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
And this dour derby had yet another, as it took Wigan a minute or two for Leon Clarke to head in their fifth. It almost got worse for the visitors but Nathan Byrne saw his effort rebound off the post.
It was some relief when Robert Jones ended the torture, much of which was played in bucketing rain, by bringing an ugly encounter to a close.
Uglier still were the scenes in the crowd, with visiting fans reportedly seen fighting with police. Quite what action will be taken against the club remains to be seen but while their frustration is understandable, those resorting to violence do their club’s reputation a huge disservice.
With the off-field issues still looking some way off a resolution the sorry defeat was the last thing this old and proud, yet currently deeply troubled club needed.
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