Cod Almighty | Match Report
by Tony Butcher
8 January 2000
A bright but cold day, with a surprisingly small turnout from the Bolton supporters – about 300, when they normally fill the entire Osmond Stand. There was a persistent but swirling wind, mainly blowing across the pitch from Main Stand to Findus.
Town lined up in the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows :- Coyne, McDermott, Gallimore, Groves, Lever, Donovan, Pouton, Coldicott, D Smith, Nicholls and Clare. The substitutes were definitely Croudson, Black and Butterfield. The other two looked like A Buckley and Oswin. I am afraid I arrived too late to see them warming up or hear the tannoy announcement. I have two separate sources who clearly identified Oswin, so if that's good enough for the Washington Post, it's good enough for me. Like last week, Groves was in central defence with Pouton in the centre of midfield.
Bolton played in dark blue with a faint diagonal white stripe, but it wasn't too much of a colour clash. The referee was Mr Uriah Rennie, so anything could have happened with Mr Mad in charge.
Town kicked off towards the Osmond Stand and started quite effectively. Within three minutes they had had a shot! Some interplay down the right involving Clare and Pouton resulted in a cross being half cleared to McDermott, about 25 yards out to the right of the penalty box. McDermott hit a left footed volley low to the foot of the keeper's left-hand post, whereupon it was pushed aside for a corner. The corner either hit a Bolton centre half's forehead, or went straight into the keeper's arms. Of the four or five corners Town had in the first half Donovan hit them to one or the other. Within 10 minutes Town had another shot, when D Smith hit a left-footed half volley a couple of feet high and wide from 20 yards.
Bolton seemed to be playing for counter attacks, packing the defence when Town had the ball, and they looked very dangerous when breaking. Around the time D Smith had his shot Bolton had a breakaway which resulted in the centre-forward (Hansen) dragging a cross shot wide of Coyne's right-hand post from a position 10 yards out, 10 or so yards to the left of the goal. He had been released by Gudjohnssen with a flick between Gallimore and Lever.
The game had settled in to a pattern of Town possession, with attacks breaking down 20 yards from goal and Bolton counter-attacking at speed. So for most of the first half Town had the ball, but did'’t do anything particularly threatening with it. Every five minutes or so Town had a shot at goal. Coldicott tried a volley from 30 yards which was saved easily by the keeper at the foot of his right-hand post. After some concerted attacking down the left and centre involving D Smith, Clare and Pouton the ball was rolled to Donovan on the right edge of the penalty area. He shimmied and sent in a low right foot daisy cutter which the keeper again saved easily at the foot of his left-hand post. Donovan's best moment of the game had come a few minutes earlier when he ran at two defenders from a position 20 yards out, getting past both but running the ball straight out of play. Yes I did say that was Donovan's "best” moment. D Smith had another attempt, this time with his right foot, when cutting across the area. However his shot was very, very weak and barely counted as an effort. There were several other moments when Town threatened, usually down the right, but nothing at all was produced to excite the crowd.
After about 30 minutes Bolton started to attack a little more often, and with increasing threat. Their players were obviously better than ours; stronger, faster, taller and more quick-witted. Bolton played a lot of one-touch give and goes with plenty of movement off the ball. All their players drifted in spaces, particularly the central midfielder Passi, who was always in five yards of space. They should have scored when Hansen was set free down Town's centre left with only Coyne to beat. Coyne stayed on his line a bit too long, hesitating twice before finally advancing. Fortunately, Hansen placed his shot a couple of feet wide of Coyne's right-hand post. About five or six minutes later they should have scored again when their big midfielder Jensen won a tackle five yards outside the penalty area and strolled through three tackles, leaving him 15 yards out with just Coyne in front of him. He hit his shot low against Coyne's legs and the ball went out for a corner.
A minute later they finally did score. Bolton broke down the Town right and Groves, near the edge of the box, cleared the ball with a neat lay off to Coldicott, about five yards outside the Town area. Coldicott turned and shimmied past a tackle from Passi. However Passi dived in with a two-footed scissor tackle, leaving Coldicott in a heap. The Town players appealed for a free kick and some of the less docile members of the crowd shouted and bayed at the referee. Being Uriah Rennie, he saw no wrong and waved play on. The ball rolled to a Bolton player (I think it may have been Bergsson) who advanced and played it back to a forward near the edge of Town’s area. Bergsson ran forward and received a pass outside Gallimore (I think) who had moved across to the centre. Bergsson was free on the centre left of Town's area, he waited for Coyne and placed a shot across him into the right-hand side netting. The Town crowd mostly sunk into silence, with only a few summoning up the energy to boo the referee and snarl at the failure to give a free kick.
The only other attempt at goal was when Clare received a bouncing ball just inside the right corner of the Bolton box, he spun and hit a low drive towards the keeper's right-hand post. The ball bounced just before the keeper and hit him on the chin, coming out to near the edge of the six-yard box. A defender hoofed it away for a corner whilst Nicholls watched, moved a leg then slumped away in 'disappointment'. In other words, he wasn't watching. It's the first time I've mentioned Nicholls and will be the penultimate. He will be gone soon, so let's not dwell on his inadequacies too much. He'll be someone else's problem, not ours. I have yet to find a logical explanation for the him being (a) a Premiership footballer and (b) recorded as a scorer of three goals in the Premiership. He is way out of his depth in Division One. Bring back Tony Daws!
Two minutes of extra time were played and nothing happened in them. The crowd booed at half time, though it was half hearted and no-one was sure whether they were booing the team or the ref. No-one expected Town to score in the second half and no-one was too critical of the team. Apart from the loan player, no-one had played badly (Donovan had played his usual frustrating 'almost' game). Bolton just looked better players.
No changes were made at half time by either side. Town came out and for a minute something occurred. Pouton broke away down the right with a determined dribble. When he was near the edge of the penalty area he fell over with sufficient skill to get a free kick (something he had done in the first half too – a surging dribble followed by a fall, and a couple of fancy flicks followed by a fall when he lost control of the ball. Both got free kicks). Gallimore stepped up and, from 20 yards to the right of the goal managed to curl a truly awful shot onto the top of the Pontoon. That was Town's last shot of the game. Not even mis-kicks, nor blocks. None, nil, nul, zero, absolutely zilch.
Donovan was set free in the box after 20 or so minutes of the half. The crowd stood up (with no expectation, just blind hope). He was alone, near the bye-line, about 10 yards to the left of the goal. Donovan looked up and picked out the man to pass to - a Bolton defender on the edge of the six-yard box. Donovan had a couple more crossing opportunities (with no-one near him) and on each occasion he managed to pick out the forehead of an unmarked Bolton defender. His normal wing play was dogged by his normal consistency in hitting the knee of the full-back with his passes and crosses. Some rather rude words were sent in the direction of Donovan by many members of the Pontoon (and elsewhere, I expect). Apart from crosses by Pouton and Groves, which the keeper caught, and a couple of minor scrambles near the end, Town never even threatened to get into the Bolton penalty area.
Nicholls was taken off after exactly 60 minutes. He can't say he wasn't warned as some members of the Pontoon (ok, me) were counting down the minutes for him - two minutes and counting number 10. He can also count himself extremely fortunate that he was given a small round of polite applause when he ambled off – diffidence had set in very early with most supporters. Black came on and went to left-wing, D Smith to left-back, Gallimore to centre-back and Groves to centre-forward. Fifteen minutes later, after this had no effect, Donovan went to centre-forward with Pouton on the right wing and Groves at centre midfield. When this didn't work either, after 80 minutes, Groves and Donovan swapped positions. With a couple of minutes left Lever went up front too, leaving a sort of back three and front four or five, depending on where people happened to be standing (or falling). Thus in the last few minutes we had the unusual spectacle of Lever trying to be Tony Rees (with first time lay-offs) and Gary Childs (when he tried to go down the right wing).
The only moments of danger (or excitement) were when Pouton surged forward with a Cunnington-esque dribble. Clare buzzed around and tried really hard, but had no support.
Bolton didn't really attack for 30 minutes, being content to sit on the edge of the penalty area and watch Town players run across the pitch in front of them. Their sporadic attacks usually resulted in Gudjohnsson drifting out to Town's right and trying to beat three players, before slicing the ball wide of the goal. He, and most of his team mates, seemed to be trying to score the perfect goal.
In the last 15 minutes only Coyne stopped them scoring three or four more, as they began to exploit the gaps left by Town's rather desperate tactical shufflings and attacking. Most of the Bolton attacks came down the Town right, with McDermott becoming increasingly isolated as Donovan and Pouton stayed up the other end of the pitch. Coyne was forced to save with his legs after a ball was dinked behind McDermott for a wide player rushing into a position 10 yards out to the right of the goal. McDermott had been forced to come inside to cover Lever and the ball had been played back to another player, with the striker 10 yards to the right of him. From almost the same position Coyne saved superbly with his right hand when one-on-one. Gudjohnsson cut in from the right and hit a powerful drive across Coyne, towards the top left corner of the goal. Coyne flung himself across and palmed the ball away for a corner. Coyne was also forced to come off his line a couple of times and dive at the feet of on-rushing forwards, near the edge of the box.
Almost five minutes of extra time were added, though most of the crowd just wanted it to end. The continuation of the game was a torture for us, not hope for an equaliser. There were some small incidents on the second half, such as when the referee booked a Bolton full-back for time wasting at a throw-in – the crowd can claim the credit for that as we'd been moaning about how long it was taking Bolton to do anything all game. Their goalkeeper was the worst culprit, taking over a minute for each goal kick or offside. Rennie ordered Gudjohnsson to be taken off on a stretcher after he received treatment for a kick up the backside by Lever (it was, quite literally, a kick up the backside), despite him having recovered. In addition to his arbitrary decisions, Rennie stood in the way far too often, being either hit by the ball or running into players as they challenged for a loose ball. He tackled Coldicott at least twice. Rennie also did a superb late run across the box when Donovan was about to take a corner. He lost his marker at the back and ran to the near post. Unfortunately Donovan failed to see this and still aimed for Lever's forehead (missing by a couple of feet as usual). I must say that Rennie looked fitter, and faster, than most of the players. Pouton also managed to land head first in the Pontoon after a run down the Town left. All we saw at the top of the Pontoon were his legs waving around in the air.
In summary, the result was right. Bolton were far better than Town both individually and collectively. If Bolton played with passion and commitment they'd probably get promoted as, apart from Charlton, no collection of individuals has looked so much better than Town all season. As it is, they seemed to treat it as a training match. It wasn't as though Town weren't trying – apart from Nicholls they all ran around and got stuck in. Apart from Nicholls and Donovan no-one had a bad game, though only Pouton, Coyne, McDermott and Coldicott could be said to have a good game (and then only sporadically).
Everyone takes a beating some time. Of course with Charlton on Wednesday this may be true in spades and with knobs on.