Twenty Four Little Hours
Date: Sunday 12th August 2007What a difference a day makes. On Saturday morning the town of Bolton was bristling with anticipation, champing at the bit to confront and turnover a Newcastle side who’s manager helped transform the whites from a yo-yo club into a recognized Premiership outfit. By half past three on Saturday afternoon, reality hit with an unforgiving vengeance. I guess the most frustrating thing about this game is that Newcastle did nothing special to win, yet Bolton did everything in their power (for 45mins at least) to lose. Allardyce must’ve been expecting a battle, but I doubt even he could believe the way Bolton practically gift wrapped him three points to take back up to the North East. Who said hospitality at the Reebok was poor? To be honest Big Sam couldn’t have asked for much else. Atrocious, awful, bobbins, inept, laughable…you could wear out a thesaurus trying to describe the whites first half self-destruction on Saturday. The warning signs were there not four minutes in when the first of many defensive mix-ups gave Viduka a shot at goal, only for Cid to clear it for a corner. The opening goal was inevitable, yet when Charles N’Zogbia curled an innocuous-looking free kick into the bottom right hand corner it certainly wasn’t through much industry of their own. The defence, or anyone in white for that matter, should have put their head through the ball to launch it out of danger. They didn’t. Jaaskelainen, possibly expecting a touch, should have claimed it. He didn’t. Yet this was only the opening act in what would become a comedy of errors. As Wanderers continued to give possession away and with wide-men Nolan and Vaz Te as innocuous as the front two Anelka and Davies, it was hard to see where an equaliser would come from. It would become even harder to see where we would get two from after Milner, given the freedom of the Reebok, delivered a pinpoint cross to Martins, inexplicably unmarked in the six-yard box, who chested down before firing an overhead kick into the roof of the net giving the keeper no chance. Arms went up in vain appealing for offside. It wasn’t. All puns about swiping the barcodes seemed irrelevant. And if Bolton hearts weren’t sinking then, minutes later they would be beating helplessly on the cold Reebok concrete like a fish out of water. A long ball launched up to Martins was taken down well as he breezed past Cid. With Viduka running to his left, Martins took a chance and got lucky, hitting a speculative effort which took a deflection off the ever-dominant Faye and rolled agonisingly into the back of the net, wrong-footing Jussi. The Toon Army cheered, mothers shielded their weeping children from the horror, fans once berating their teams performance where now left to just shaking their head in unison at the debacle before them. Half time couldn’t come soon enough. The second half brought with it a much needed bite to the Bolton attack in the form of Diouf, a replacement for the anonymous Vaz Te. Bolton were now playing with pace, purpose and belief. Forty-five minutes too late, admittedly, but still encouraging enough to tell me that it is not all doom and gloom. The tenacious McCann battled for the ball after a Newcastle corner, eventually helping it on to Nolan. The skipper then played a great ball through to the Elk who, being driven wide by Carr, conjured up a quality finish to slide it below Harper. The Reebok faithful, who booed the lads off at half time, suddenly had something to shout about. Yet it was too little, too late. Newcastle had their lead, and they were going to protect it come what may. The introduction of Helguson for the injured Davies showed promise – the Icelandic ace harassing the defence and winning headers in a similar vein to the Yorkshire bulldozer. Cid, who seemed incapable of heading a ball forward in the first half, was now more composed and solid, yet one hopes a three goal deficit isn’t needed in every game to spark this reaction. Jaaskelainen, without really having one save to make, still looked unusually shaky. His long-standing affair with the goal-line will be terrible news for Mrs Jasskelainen and Gertie, yet it is also bad news for the rest of the Trotters. Numerous crosses sailed past his goal, yet you cannot help feel nervous for fear of an unmarked Viduka or the like cashing in on the back post, especially with the Bolton back-line having missed the training session on marking. So the post-mortem? Shambolic defending early on saw us commit footballing suicide. Trailing by three goals at half time did not project Newcastle’s play, yet more underlined Bolton’s frailty at the back. The optimist that I am I shall put the first half down to nerves and playing in front of the ex. The second half showed a Bolton side capable of good play with the ability to break at pace. With the likes of Andranik, Guthrie, Braaten and Wilhelmsson all set to figure it is not yet time to grab the pitchforks – after all, we are only three points off the top spot! I’ll leave you with a little reminder of the opening day of last year, with Bolton winning two-nil thanks to an unmarked Davies header and a long shot from Campo which should’ve been dealt with far better by the keeper. The opposition that day? Spurs, and they weren’t in bad shape come mid-May.