The Woolfe Man Commeth?
Date: Wednesday 19th March 2008Bolton were deprived of a victory in their last home game of the season, as Newcastle scored two late goals to secure an undeserved draw. The visitors started better and the Whites looked disjointed. Rob Sissons was winning the ball well in midfield, but not distributing it reliably and the backline looked shaky against Newcastle’s big forwards.
However, as the half progressed, Bolton took control. Johann Smith, having his best performance of the season was denied twice before David Gbemie followed up Smith’s shot to give the home side the lead, just before half-time. Star of the first half was Nathan Woolfe, who did some first rate work down the left flank. He was hungry for the ball and keen to run at players, but had the intelligence to pick the simple pass if that was the better option. His crosses into the box were highly effective and caused the opposition no end of problems. Woolfe played in pre-season friendlies the season before last and was out his depth, but showed steady improvement as the campaign progressed. Judging by his performance here that has continued. If Gary Megson is looking to add something different to the bench, he could do a lot worse.
After being comprehensively outplayed in the first half, Newcastle were decidedly physical in the second. To a man they had height and weight advantage, and if that sounds like the description of opponents in a wrestling match it’s entirely apt. It was here that Bolton showed the fighting spirit that was so much in evidence, last season as they won the league title. Centre-half Chris Stokes and left-back Matt Carlisle were much lighter than the attackers they faced, but they still consistently came out on top and with Sissons covering the back four, goalkeeper Adam Bogdan hadn’t a save of note to make, despite the visitors advantage in possession.
Woolfe was quieter in the second half as Bolton’s attacks tended to be concentrated on the right, but he still linked up well with Kevin Wolze, who at last showed some of the form that marked him out as a serious prospect last season. With eleven minutes to go, Bolton were two up and seemingly coasting as Wolze hit a post and Leslie Thompson followed up.
What followed was disappointing. With seconds of normal time left, Newcastle won a free-kick in midfield, with a dive so theatrical it should have been marked for artistic impression. From that, Shola Amoebi found himself in space for the first time all evening and headed home. A more experienced side would have played the three-minutes of added time out, but as Newcastle pressed for the equaliser, Bolton tried to play on the break, left themselves open at the back and Ngo Baheng had an opportunity to shoot on goal from the left side of midfield which he duly took.
The Wanderers players shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. The final result was a let down, but apart from a moment of defensive naivety it was an excellent performance. The long ball tactics which had served them so poorly this season were abandoned and Smith and Wolze played at the front of a 4-4-2 which always looked threatening. With better finishing they would have won comfortably. How many of those players are still at the club next season remains to be seen.