Alas there will be no Wembley trip this year for Latics…the run had to end sometime, three years to the week since Latics’ last defeat in open play, the club’s magnificent run in the FA Cup is over after a tense Lancashire derby which could have gone either way - both goalkeepers pulling off some sensational saves.
In the end, a solitary strike by Bolton debutant Zach Clough with a quarter of an hour left was the difference between the sides but Latics will wonder how they were not able to breach Wanderers’ goal having forged out some fantastic opportunities to make the short journey home with their name in Monday’s draw – three breath-taking saves from Adam Bogdan in the Bolton goal will be particularly difficult to swallow from a Latics point of view.
A painful way to end the glorious FA Cup run, perhaps, but Malky Mackay and his men put their heart and soul into this contest and were a hair’s breadth from success. They must now focus fully on the job of improving league form and fulfilling the undoubted potential of the side.
Mackay’s attitude towards the FA Cup was clearly illustrated in that the only change for Latics was Ali Al Habsi making only his second appearance of the season at his former club – the outfield players were as per the game against Sheffield Wednesday. The bench did have a different look to it, with Martyn Waghorn back in the squad after two months out with a shoulder injury, and a place for two Academy players, 20 year-old midfielder Tim Chow and 18 year old striker Sam Cosgrove.
Former Latics striker Emile Heskey was given a warm welcome by the magnificent near 3,000 strong following behind Al Habsi’s goal, and it was good to see local rivalry set to one side to recognise a great servant for the club.
Al Habsi was the first keeper to be called into serious action, coming off his line swiftly in the 10th minute to smother Liam Feeney’s shot after the winger was put through by Liam Trotter.
For their part, Latics looked the most dangerous down their left hand side, where the ever-willing James McClean delivered two dangerous crosses that no one could capitalise upon.
Bolton came close again in the 20th minute, David Wheater reaching Tim Ream’s corner at the far post but his header went narrowly wide. Then in the 28th, Al Habsi was at full stretch to palm away Trotter’s header from six yards. James Perch then came to the rescue on 32 minutes, brilliantly tackling Feeney in the box after Clough had put him clean through.
As Latics quickly broke away, Adam Forshaw weaved his way past two defenders to shoot but it was straight at Adam Bogdan, before McClean burst into the box and went down in the box under the challenge of Ream. No penalty said referee Phil Dowd.
Latics had survived a long spell of Bolton dominance but finished the first half in the ascendancy to go in level at the break.
Shaun Maloney replaced Marc-Antoine Fortune at the interval as Latics looked to keep up the momentum but it was Bolton on the break who had the first attempt of the half when Clough’s goal-bound attempt cannoned off Ramis for a corner in the 49th minute.
But then Bogdan pulled off an absolutely magical save to deny Forshaw from point blank range in the 52nd minute, who met Chris McCann’s cross with a powerful header from six yards to which the Hungarian keeper somehow managed to get an outstretched fingertip.
Don Cowie replaced Ben Watson a minute later and it was Al Habsi’s turn to pull out a great save, diving low to his left to deny Clough’s effort from the edge of the box. The young striker, quickly followed by Bolton skipper Neil Danns then fired low past the upright as the home side enjoyed a dominant spell.
At the other end James Tavernier managed to wriggle clear and shoot on the break before Bolton came back and Ramis did brilliantly to deny Darren Pratley with a last ditch tackle after Al Habsi wasn’t able to hold on to a deep cross.
Emmerson Boyce was the final change for Latics, replacing Tavernier in the 64th minute and Latics immediately had a chance, McCann heading over from Andrew Taylor’s left sided cross.
The game was really turning into a cracking cup-tie, with both sides searching out the opening.
Perch was on hand again to turn away Trotter’s dangerous cross as substitute Craig David lurked in the box, then Al Habsi palmed away Davies’ angled effort.
Back came Latics and Maloney was unceremoniously brought down by Josh Vela, for which he saw yellow.
But it was Bolton celebrating with 15 minutes to go, as Clough finally found a way through to reach Dann’s through ball and chipped the ball home over Al Habsi. Just as Latics had worked themselves back in the game; a real blow.
Could Latics respond?
McClean lead the charge on the break and from Cowie’s cross he had Bogdan at full stretch again, parrying his rasping drive around the post. The Latics fans then claimed Bogdan stepped over the line under pressure from McCann at the resulting corner. Nothing given.
Another Maloney corner came to nothing but Latics poured forwards in their attempt to equalize.
Into injury time and a Maloney free kick from just over 20 yards, and another fingertip save from Bogdan. Agony.