Attendance: 21 709
The one thing about the regular season hike up the M6 to Burnden Park, or more recently The Reebok Stadium of course, to face those ‘other’ Wanderers, the one from Greater Manchester, is that we journey there, genuinely comfortable in the belief that we have the quality and ability in our line-up to return home with the three (or two as it once was) points on offer, but knowing full well that The Trotters have enough in their armoury to give you a very uncomfortable ninety plus minutes, and even send you back to Brummagem pointless.
Those thoughts and concerns were yet again very uppermost in our thoughts as we jumped in the car to head off to the northwest at Saturday lunchtime, quietly confident in the lads to do us proud, and chalk up away victory number eleven for the campaign, yet also fearing the worst, and contemplating the possibility that we might be about to suffer successive premiership away defeat number four. I guess recent results and performances do that to you. With Gary Megson’s scrappers not yet completely safe from the dreaded drop, it was obvious to all that a testing afternoon was in store for us.
The starting line-ups:-
Megsons Lot:- Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O’Brien, Samuel, Kevin Davies, McCann, Muamba, Cohen, Taylor, Elmander. Subs: Al Habsi, Hunt, Smolarek, Riga, Puygrenier, Makukula, Basham.
Us:- Friedel, Knight, Davies, Cuellar, Shorey, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Heskey, Carew. Subs: Guzan, Sidwell, Delfouneso, Salifou, Gardner, Albrighton, Clark.
So that’s three ex- Villans in the Wanderer’s team, and didn’t Martin off-load all three of them? Maybe not, the old brain isn’t thinking all that straight today. Whatever, that will be three ex-Villa Park lads with something to prove. Doesn’t make our task any easier, that’s for sure.
One change for us, Zat Knight in for the injured Luke Young, so that will no doubt see Carlos Cuellar switch to right full back, with Zat slotting alongside Curtis Davies in central defence. No Nigel Reo-Coker on the bench, that raised a few eye-brows amongst the travelling supporters, particularly considering the constant rumour suggesting that NRC is on his way out of the club come the summer. Good to see youngster Ciaran Clark on the bench, a young man who has improved and developed nicely over the past two seasons, and who certainly shows considerable promise.
A gorgeous, bright and sunny day as we journeyed northwards, more akin to watching the ‘boys of summer’ in action out at New Road, Worcester, and the intriguing battle of willow against leather, suggests my buddy Gary. Don`t say that responds friend Neil, we’ll probably wished we had taken that route come five o’clock this afternoon. Oh ye of little faith, eh?
It was a pretty lack-lustre start from both sides, in fact with less than ten minutes gone, the guy behind us drew laughs from the supporters with the comment, ‘No danger of any goals here this afternoon lads, wake me up at the final whistle’. It certainly wasn’t shaping up to be a classic, in fact, anything but, and in truth for long spells it had the feel of a typical end of season encounter, with nothing at stake for either side, which of course was certainly not the case. Both teams appeared to be lacking confidence, perhaps not difficult to understand when you take in to account the recent lack of success results wise of either side.
After twenty minutes or so we enjoyed our first real sniff of an opportunity, when James Milner latched onto a clever ball from John Carew, only to see his effort blocked, and then less than ninety seconds later, it was Milner again testing Jaaskelainen with a free kick that had beaten the Bolton wall.
On the half hour though the home side had a great chance to take the lead, Muamba getting the ball stuck under his feet in the six yard area, after impressive approach play from Matty Taylor and Kevin Davies. A great opportunity, Muamba clearly should have put the home team ahead.
Our best chance of a breakthrough looked like coming from a set-piece, but all too often we completely wasted these opportunities, Ashley’s dead ball deliveries in particular proving to be a huge disappointment. Some surprise then when in the forty-third minute Ashley curled in an effort from the edge of the box, the ball completely deceiving the Wanderers keeper, clipping the post, and ending up in the back of the net to give us a 1-0 lead.
It looked as if Jaaskelainen had taken his eye off of the ball to keep a check on the presence of Carew, in fact at the time one or two of us thought that Big JC must have got the final touch. Nothing doing though, the goal credited to Ash. I think I’m right in saying that it was Ashley’s first premiership goal since he scored in the 4-2 victory against Megson’s men, back in December, and the goal certainly put a spring in the step of our flying winger as the second half got underway. He looked a different player to the young man who had struggled through the opening forty five minutes, looking then a mere pale imitation of the player who had received rave reviews with such regularity prior to Christmas.
He sent in a good effort in the fifty-second minute, an effort that Jaaskelainen did well to parry, and he looked to be really growing in confidence as Bolton afforded him way too much freedom and possession of the ball. Before he could inspire a second killer Villa goal though, The Trotters drew level on the hour mark.
Davies and O’Brien got touches onto a Taylor free kick, the ball falling favourably to Cohen, who beat Friedel easily to set up a potentially exciting final thirty minutes. Again it was poor defending from us, we had ample opportunity to have cleared our lines. So frustrating. We do a lot of talking in between games about what we need and plan to do to eradicate these defensive failings, but come the weekend it`s the same old, same old.
With about fifteen minutes remaining Emile Heskey was withdrawn to be replaced by Nathan Delfoueno, but once again the youngster was not on long enough to either get himself settled into the action, or make a difference to the outcome of the game.
John Carew nearly scored the winner in the 85th minute, when he got on the end of a superb cross from the impressive Nicky Shorey, but Jaaskelainen reacted superbly to tip his effort over the bar and save the day for his team.
Overall though, neither team really played well enough to deserve or earn a victory, so realistically a draw was probably a fair and just result. The point won by Bolton should be enough to guarantee their safety, and deservedly so I think. There’s certainly worse teams than The Trotters out there in premiership land, well from what I’ve seen with my own eyes this season that’s definitely the case, and with three ex-Villans usually in their starting line-up, I have no reason to wish for their demise.
Was it a point won or two more points tossed away by us though? I’ll leave that poser for you guys to decide, but one thing is fairly obvious to all. Even allowing for Everton’s slip up today, we are going to have to get back to winning ways, and quickly, if we intend to finish the campaign in fifth spot.
At least two plus points to mull over though. That’s now three games without a defeat(!!), and next up, our opponents at Villa Park are Hull City, certainly the poorest premiership team that I have seen all season long.
See there are positives out there. We just have to look a little bit below the surface for them. Oh, and lest I should forget. The biggest plus point of all. We are sitting pretty in fifth place in The Premiership!!
Have a great week guys!