Craven Cottagers 2 John Craven 1
Date: Monday 15th September 2008A fair few on here may have been disheartened by the match preview prediction, in which I said that for Bolton to win, it would have to be ugly. Well, good news – from about quarter past three on Saturday afternoon, there was no chance of any of that nonsense happening. It was certainly a day to forget for the travelling contingent, who will have more questions than answers to direct at the players, the chairman and a certain carrot-topped touchline warrior.
Still, the opening exchanges provided positive signs in the West London sunshine. A couple of free kicks won on the left hand side gave Bolton the opportunity to put the ball and pile the yellow shirts into the Fulham box, with one in particular evading everyone and just scraping past Schwarzer’s post. Fulham responded in kind with some wicked deliveries from Bullard causing momentary concern in the Wanderers’ penalty area, and Gera wastefully blasting over from a good position.
The signs were becoming ever more ominous. Shittu had made an excellent last ditch tackle to deny Johnson a clear shot on goal before first blood was drawn. A cross from the left hand side was half headed out to the waiting Gera, who produced a well executed snap shot into the Jaaskelainen’s bottom right hand corner. Although the ball came through a crowd of players, the Finn will be disappointed to have let it slip through his grasp.
Bolton set off with intent straight from the restart, eager to level the sco…err, no. It was the Cottagers who took the impetus, running rings around the midfield and using the pace of Johnson and Zamora to expose the lumbering nature of the Trotters’ defence. Samuel and Andy O’Brien were failing to cope with AJ, consistently getting played around allowing Fulham to cross from the touchline. At the other end, the isolated Davies cast a lonely figure as he failed in his battle with the gargantuan Helgeland, and was forced into trying speculative efforts. One in particular, a 30-yard clip which almost caught Schwarzer off guard, almost provided the equaliser. However it has to be said, if you are relying on Davies to make the breakthrough from outside the 18 yard box, something is seriously amiss.
Not only was Helgeland winning the physical battle with Davies, it was happening all over the pitch. Zamora out jumped Jaaskelainen in a tussle for the ball and volleyed it into the open net. However, the assistant referee had flagged for an impediment and Bolton were let off the hook.
This light relief, sadly, did not last long. Yet I have a feeling that the second Fulham goal had its beginnings in the Eight Bells pub not long before kick off. Lord Kangana reminded us that Shittu’s turning circle was equivalent to that of a Sherman tank, and hisroyalgingerness delighted at hearing Zamora might be starting, declaring that the former West Ham man was damn well poor. A kiss of death if ever there was one, as Zamora executed a Cruyff turn, left McCann for dead and Shittu still adjusting his tracks, before curling a beauty of a right foot shot into the far corner. Thankfully I was downstairs at the bar when this happened, so liquid medicine was duly purchased.
After a half time break spent watching boats go by on the Thames, I wondered if anything would improve in the second half. The answer was an emphatic no. Bullard, Gera and Murphy continued to run the show, with Nolan’s only notable contribution being a vicious tackle on England’s newest recruit, deserving of a booking. McCann and O’Brien couldn’t get near anyone to tackle and Muamba was quite below par after his early season form. Gera hit the bar, Murphy tested Jaaskelainen from distance and so did Davies as Bolton evidently needed to get out of their own half. The away crowd was hoarse calling for the dreadlocked one to be unleashed onto the pitch, so much so that not one joke about his name was heard, particularly disappointing as they were tailor-made for this situation (‘He Mustapha chance of coming on now’, ‘Bolton are suffering from Riga-mortis’, etc). Riga came on for the badger and Helguson came on for his compatriot Steinsson as Bolton chased the game.
A free kick won on the half way line brought Bolton to where they had been mildly prosperous in the early exchanges. A Jaaskelainen punt into the box, a Davies knock down and, lo and behold, a goal. Suddenly there was hope that maybe, we could half inch a point.
As the game seeped into stoppage time, it was all Bolton without there actually being a meaningful chance. The last throw of the dice came as Nolan lined up a throw in, yet despite the yellow shirts in the box it was played short to O’Brien and the ball eventually ended up on the half way line with Muamba. Fabrice was then tackled, and Davies races through only for the Finn to deny Fulham a two goal lead. By this time though, the dice had been rolled and the game was over.
Thankfully it was only a 20 minute tube ride home for me, yet I cannot imagine the journey back to Bolton for the majority of fans. The anger subjected to Megson at the end was palpable, and I imagine many in the stands will be deserting his camp if results and performances like this continue. The majority had hoped that the opening four fixtures would have amassed more than a point each, especially with the harsh winter months ahead. With Arsenal and Manchester United just around the corner, it is hard to see any more coming our way this September.