Monday, August 13, 2007


Bolton 1 - 3 Newcastle Utd

Dear Jim

Please can you fix it for us for the Premier League season to finish right now? We're top of the table, you see. I know it's a big ask, but you've worked near-miracles before.


Yours sincerely


PS While I've got your attention, please can you also fix it for yourself not to wear those horrendously tight running shorts? No one really wants to see a pensioner's meat and two veg shrink-wrapped in nylon...

That lie-down didn't change things. We really had just won - and won with considerable ease - on a ground where we've grown used to finding ourselves not only beaten but comprehensively outplayed, outharried and outmuscled.

Everyone - from chairman Phil Gartside, full of jibes about Fat Sam in the build-up to the game (about how Bolton had gone "stale" under his leadership - as if 5th place was somehow a disappointment), through Fat Sam's former sidekick Sammy Lee and the players right down (probably) to the groundsman and the tea lady - wanted to give our new manager a severely bloodied nose for thinking he had left the Reebok for a "bigger" club. The headlines were already half-written.

But, in the space of 27 glorious first-half minutes, we unwrote them.

Mark Viduka had already gone close when, on 11 minutes, Charles N'Zogbia - continuing in his unfamiliar left-back role with neither new signing Jose Enrique nor waste-of-space Celestine Babayaro fit - swung in a dangerous left-footed free kick from 40 yards out. David Rozehnal was inches away from making contact for a debut goal but the ball bounced straight past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Ten minutes later and Obafemi Martins showed why we shouldn't be even contemplating the possibility of selling him - and why a certain Michael Owen faces a fight to get back into the team even when fit. Alan Smith knocked the ball back to James Milner on the left, his curling cross found the Nigerian with his back to goal and, with astonishing athleticism, Martins lashed an overhead kick into the roof of the net when almost any other player would have launched it high over the bar into the stand.

We survived a bit of a scare when Gary Speed tried to prove once again that we should never have offloaded him when we did (it's OK, Gary, we know), but Smith and Steven Taylor denied him the goal that would have ensured he has scored in every Premier League campaign since it began.

If Martins' first was down to skill (and, admittedly, slack marking), then his second owed a lot to good fortune. Taylor's pass encouraged him to run at the defence, and as the white shirts facing him backed off he tried his luck from distance. The shot, headed for the bottom right corner, glanced off a Bolton player and eluded the legs of the already-diving Jaaskelainen.

In truth, so poor were Bolton in the first period that we could have been five or six up if we'd shown a ruthlessness to match our tenacity and dynamism. It couldn't be as one-sided again in the second half, and so it proved, as the Trotters emerged with much more purpose. Inside the first ten minutes they had pulled a goal back, ex-Mackem Gavin McCann driving through the middle and enabling Kevin "Please Mr McLaren, believe my own hype" Nolan to pick out Nicolas Anelka. The Incredible Sulk was too pacey for Rozehnal and fired across Steve Harper into the bottom corner.

But - a measure of things to come, perhaps? - the dreaded collapse never materialised and we played out the rest of the game in relative comfort. Bolton certainly competed and made us work much harder than we had before the break, but, with Geremi and Nicky Butt superb in the middle of the park, we kept them at arms' length to hold on for a win that served as an eloquent riposte to Gartside and - with no other side scoring three or more and winning by two clear goals - sees us sitting pretty at the top.

Allardyce's choice of formation - 4-3-3 - wasn't a complete surprise, though I was intrigued by the fact that he went with Milner pushed forward and Smith, the alleged striker, part of the three man midfield with Geremi and Butt. In a 4-4-2 formation, the latter two would make for a pretty defensive central pairing, especially at home, but 4-3-3 worked well, giving us a stable platform but also allowing for some fluidity and flexibility in attack.

Our cause was not only helped by Bolton's uncharacteristic and mystifying lethargy in the first half, but also by Sammy Lee's decision to leave that eternal pain-in-our-backside El-Hadji Diouf on the bench. Even though he got on for much of the second period, the Senegalese Spitter has unsurprisingly spat out his dummy, Lee subsequently telling him that no one is an automatic choice. I do enjoy a bit of Schadenfreude, but this could backfire on us if Fat Sam, alerted to the fact that Diouf is unsettled, decides he'd like to bring him to Tyneside...

No, let's just concentrate on the positives. No doubt there'll be plenty of opportunity to dwell on negatives later on in the season...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


Post a Comment

<< Home