Match report by Jamie Aspinall.
Wigan were defeated once again in their opening fixture with another on loan Premier League striker proving to make the difference in front of goal.
Tammy Abraham, on loan from Chelsea, did not need long to make an impact after coming on in the 67th minute, as he was there when it mattered to kick start the Robins’ comeback in the second half before Bobby Reid sealed the victory late on to spoil Latics’ once hopeful mood.
Everything seemed to be going so well for Gary Caldwell’s side in the first half. The team including five debutants looked to have gelled well and were settled into their roles.
They soaked up the home sides early pressure before upping the tempo and using their counter-attacking qualities to convincingly take a first half lead.
The goal was assisted by Wigan’s most dangerous player Yanic Wildschut when he met a great through ball down the left and wriggled his way free of two defenders to lay off to Alex Gilbey for a sweetly struck side-footer to claim his first goal for Wigan in style.
Gilbey had set his sights earlier in the game with a similarly worked chance but couldn’t quite keep his shot down on that occasion. His shooting was not the only attribute impressing the Wigan fans, as his energetic presence and his ability on the ball really helped to keep the ball moving just as Caldwell would have instructed.
There were other impressive debuts from the likes of Adam Bogdan who looked commanding and agile, but even more so from Luke Burke who played fearlessly and with maturity beyond his years. He got stuck in with his defensive duties and also looked to advance the play with a positive approach.
The Wigan fans were in a joyous mood with the sun shining and everything going their way.
But it was of no surprise when Bristol came out fighting in the second half and gave their sixteen thousand fans something to shout about in their newly renovated stadium, and unfortunately for Wigan the onslaught turned out to be relentless.
From the beginning to the end of the second half it was pretty much all Bristol. They executed their attack well by pressing and working hard to break up any passing game Wigan were trying to continue.
Certain Latics players were tiring and the Robins cleverly exploited these areas. Burke was up against wave after wave of attack down the left hand side and had to be subbed off for Donervon Daniels after a knock to the head. Daniels struggled to contain the driving runs and Wigan were starting to appear stretched all over the pitch.
David Perkins and Dan Burn were culpable for a few loose balls and mistakes and looked to be struggling with the pace of the game. The biggest issue for Latics was that lone striker Will Grigg was suffering from what looked like cramp and there were no direct replacements on the bench.
Due to injuries there were few options for Caldwell and he had to switch Wildschut to play up top, with Jacobs replacing Grigg to try to add some attacking presence in midfield. Wildschut ran himself into the ground chasing hopeless causes and soon had to be substituted due to fatigue and replaced with the rather lightweight Ryan Colclough.
The fact Wigan could not hold on to the ball was putting constant pressure on the midfield and defence and it was only a matter of time before the home team made their comeback.
First to strike was Abraham with a towering header from a corner in the final ten minutes of the game. This was soon followed by a scramble in the area on the 90th minute where the ball ricocheted around until it fell to O’Neil who rifled his shot into Reid who guided the deflected effort past Bogdan who had worked so bravely to protect his goal.
It was a sickener for Wigan but nothing more than was expected. A draw may have been a fair result on the balance of the full 90 minutes, but Wigan could not complain for their lack of quality and impact in the second half.
It was clear from the tired legs and the limited options available that Wigan need to make a few signings to improve the depth of the squad, especially in the forward areas.
There were some solid performances across the team from the reliable Warnock, Morgan, Buxton and Power. The foundations look strong and there are players to come back from injury, but to compete in the Championship there will need to be further additions to allow us to compete during the long season ahead.
There were certainly more positives to take out of this game than of the previous season’s opener against Coventry, and Bristol are a team that could prove to be a surprise package and challenge high in the table with the investment and signings they have made so far.
Let’s hope Caldwell can continue to strengthen for this level and build another competitive side so we can finish much stronger than we have started again!