Bah. Never really looked like winning. Never mind parking the bus, Bolton parked an armoured tank in front of their goal and we had no way round, through or over it.
The match’s big moment was Ivan Klasnic’s goal, a sloppy pass from Gera eventually leading to a sloppy clearance from Baird, and next thing we knew Klasnic had volleyed home (just as he had a couple of years ago) from around the penalty spot. Soft goal really, but entirely in keeping with the way the first half had gone. We couldn’t keep the ball (Bolton pressed with great energy), couldn’t build any worthwhile attacks, and most importantly, couldn’t link midfield and attack. Johnson scurried as he always does but Dembele was entirely shut out of the game.
And not always reasonably. Word is clearly getting round about our man’s quality, and Bolton took it upon themselves to shut him out by fair means or foul. It was remeniscent of Wolves earlier in the season, death by 1000 cuts (from Wikipedia: “to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time” – indeed). Bolton pushed, pulled, blocked and tugged, and our man was not a factor. Eventually the crowd tired of this and told referee Atwell what they thought of him. This felt entirely fair; you have to crack down on this nonsense or it just encourages them. Murphy accompanied Atwell back across the pitch at half-time, arms wide in the French “eh?” style.
The second half seemed a bit better. Dembele got much more of the ball, and was soon dribbling like a speed skater, whizzing past people magnificently. But Bolton kept at it and their keeper was never really bothered. On came Bobby Zamora, and instantly we looked better. The long dumps over the top that Johnson had so struggled with were now legitimate passes, Zamora finally giving Cahill and Wheater a taste of their own medicine. The attacks flowed now, but we seemed to spend the last twenty minutes taking corners that never came to anything. It was extremely frustrating.
It was a kind enough draw, but credit Bolton for a fine performance. Atwell helped by letting the physical side of the Bolton game carry on too long, but Bolton can play too: Wheater and Cahill, Muamba and Holden, Davies and Klasnic. Fine partnerships up the middle, and it’s probably fair to say that these six outplayed their opponents for most of the game.
A bad day at the office then. Great to see Zamora back, nice to see Salcido finding form, too, but it will be interesting to see if we can adapt to the way teams are starting to play against us: harrass Murphy, hammer Dembele, stop most of our creativity. Sidwell again looked promising, but Johnson’s pot seems to have been moved off the cooker and their are suspicions Dempsey’s play outside the penalty area has been sub-par (by his standards) for a while. The glass is half-full, but we’ll need to do better than this to stay away from trouble.