Nearly 20 years after Emile Heskey made his debut for Leicester City in 1995, his strike partner Zach Clough netted the winner for Bolton Wanderers in an impressive first senior appearance.
Despite the heated local-rivalry, this 3rd round FA cup clash was not of priority for either opponent, which gave Neil Lennon the opportunity to hand 19 year-old Clough an opportunity to impress.
The Bolton manager’s winning mentality that is clearly installed in his squad was still evident in his team-selection. Vice-captain Matt Mills was the main absentee having picked up a knock and Adam Bodgan was drafted in having recently lost his 1st-team place between the sticks to Andy Lonergan.
Bolton started the opening 10 brightly, as former goalkeeper-at-the-Macron Ali Al Habsi did well to push away Liam Feeney’s effort when the winger found himself through on goal.
The home side’s pressure continued, and they thought they’d been rewarded in the 13th minute. Feeney crossed to Clough at the far post. Clough’s header was then parried onto the feet of Liam Trotter, who steered home only to find the assistant referee adjudged him to be offside.
Prior to this game a 2-1 away defeat to Huddersfield last Sunday which glitched their promotion push, Bolton had been on an 8-game unbeaten streak. The confidence that Bolton’s form had brought despite that defeat was on display for all to see as they came out with the same pressure on Wigan into the 2nd half.
On 49 minutes, Clough went on one of several mazy runs into the opponents half and was unlucky to see his effort deflected wide.
Wigan, who hold the FA Cup dear to their hearts, having won it back in 2013 and been semi-finalists last year, wanted to give their 4,000 traveling fans something to cheer about and gradually found themselves creating better chances.
Adam Bogdan produced several superb saves in the latter period of the game, including tipping over Adam Forshaw’s close-range header in the 59th minute.
In a game where it looked like a goal would just about do, Emile Heskey was taken off for the Craig Davies, who had returned to the bench following a hamstring injury.
Davies was straight into the thick of the action, winning all his aerial challenges and holding play up well, even forcing Al Habsi into a smart save as the Welsh-international’s right flank cross was deflected goalwards.
Wanderers finally broke the deadlock with 14 minutes remaining and it was the Manchester-born debutante, Clough, who sent the stadium into raptures.
Collecting a through ball from the much-improved Trotter, the striker coolly chipped the ball over an on-rushing Al Habsi. A sense of local pride could be felt amongst the fans as the academy prospect took the plaudits for the goal he’s been waiting 12 years for, having been with the club since the age of 8.
@ZachClough born March 8, 1995. @EmileHeskeyUK makes debut for #lcfc on March 8, 1995. Nearly 20yrs later, they partner each other at #bwfc— Marc Iles (@MarcIles) January 3, 2015
It was no more than Bolton deserved and they managed to comfortably hold onto their lead to the final whistle.
Hero of the day Clough was given a standing ovation late in the game as Eidur Gudjohnsen replaced him on 88’ minutes and Neil Lennon was beaming with pride when asked about his young striker:
"It was a debut to dream of." Lennon said. "He’s been progressing very well in training of late and we have a lot of confidence in him."
‘We didn’t tell him he was playing until an hour before kick off because we didn’t want him thinking too much about the whole situation.’
Have a listen to Zach's Nan on Radio Manchester to hear just how proud his family were:
Following last weeks disappointing result to Huddersfield, the Bolton boss was more than pleased with his teams performance:
"We were looking for a reaction following the defeat and we got exactly that. That's six wins and one draw in seven home games now."
A confident victory for the whites, who saw themselves overcome their local rivals for the second time at home this season. Wigan, however, need to look upon Malky Makay to do some serious January transfer dealings if the Latics are to salvage their season.
George's Man of the Match – Zach Clough: Bolton’s academy product looked dangerous every time he picked up the ball and his well-taken goal capped a memorable debut.
Bolton: Bogdan, Vela, Wheater, Dervite, Ream, Trotter, Danns, Pratley, Feeney, Heskey (Davies 62’), Clough (Gudjohnsen 88’)
Wigan: Al Habsi, Tavenier (Boyce 64’), Perch, Ramis, Kiernan, Taylor, McCann, Watson (Cowie 53’), Forshaw, Fortuné (Maloney 45’), McClean
Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
ATT: 16, 788