Latics 2 – 1 Bolton Wanderers
Sunday 2nd October 2005
It’s 12:20 and I’m still in Orrell. Those of you who recall my first foray into the world of published writing (what you don’t remember the ‘famous’ Cockney Latic article? Well here it is for you delight and delectation.) will already be aware of my mate’s laissez faire attitude towards football matches and social functions, as an aside he was the best man at the wedding I attended instead of the Sunderland game. This time he’s managed to surpass himself though. He’s only gone and picked the day of the Bolton game for his daughter’s christening.
It’s a Catholic job and, assuming that the actual head wetting will take place in the middle of a mass, there’s a resounding “you can sod off” from the Latics fraternity amongst the invitees, we relent though when told that the ceremony will only last 30 minutes safe in the knowledge that we’d have plenty of time to make a 1.30 kick off. Luckily we realise mid week that the game starts at one and so with daggers in our backs 3 car loads dash out of the church and off to the game quicker than you can say ‘amen’.
I’d only gone to the Boro game late on, so I’m a little more confident that we’ll make it than my travelling companions. The car’s a little tense as we discuss the best route and where the remaining parking spaces will be. As it happens the journey is relatively unhindered and low and behold, there are still spaces on the Red Robin, so there’s not only time for a pint but also a change of clothes for the female member of our party.
The aspect of our play that has surprised me the most this season is how easy we’ve found it to have a go at teams. If we can find a clinical edge then we’ll hammer some one before long. From the kick off, Camara is running at their defence and causing havoc. Kavanagh, Roberts, McCulloch and Camara himself all fluffed chances to take an early lead. Bolton’s style of play makes it hard for teams to dominate them and it was far from being all Latics as far as the pattern of play goes, but the better of the chances fell to players in blue and white, the opposition couldn’t of complained if they’d have been a couple of goals down at the break.
For the first 15 minutes or so, Chimbonda was again looking an absolute star. Until that is, Kevin Davies lunged through the back of him in an attempt to get a ball that was going out for a throw anyway. High and hard, it was a challenge that deserved at least a booking and saw Pascal replaced by Ryan Taylor a few minutes later. Thankfully, with the weekend off, it seems like he’ll be back in time for the Newcastle game.
The injury did provide us with a couple of comedy moments though. After he’d treating, and obviously discussed the extent of the damage with the player, the bench asked Alex Cribley for his opinion. The response was the international sign for “I’ve not got a clue what he’s on about”; all open palms, shrugged shoulders and a point at the player. The course of least resistance was the old favourite of, give him 5 minutes. Although it was obvious to all that he was knackered, a few minutes later Jewell popped up to ask him if he wanted to come off, on extremely French shrug and puff later Paul was returning to his seat, red faced and shaking his head.
The French/Scouse language barrier is obviously one step too far, too soon.
I might be biased but, on the first half evidence, everything that you hear about Bolton’s play is true. There’ll not be too many photos of this game that actually feature the ball, and we don’t need to worry about our lads getting injured on international duty as they’ll all be sat at home nursing cricked necks. Joking aside, it’s easy to see how these tactics can be effective but it’s not pretty.
If the first division is full of players who have skill, but are too small to be a success at a higher level (you know the type, think Peschisolido, Tommy Smith and David Connolly) then the second division is full of players that are big enough, but are just shite. Bolton come somewhere in between. They have players of real quality, just look at their midfield, Okatcha and Speed’s records speak for themselves, Nakata is the biggest (if not necessarily the best) player to come out of Japan and Kevin Nolan has always struck me as a good player. If they had failed then Stelios and Diouf were waiting on the bench.
On the other hand they are a strong, physical, and most of all, big team. Their centre halves are less brick outhouses, more brick shower blocks. Even the player I’d marked up as a midfield terrier, Nolan, dwarfed all our midfield. These are the strengths that Allardyce has them play to and yet in those rare moments where Bolton decided to keep the ball on the floor they looked a decent side. If it works, you can’t see the Bolton fans moaning, but it must be frustration for the players who have to carry out this ‘master plan’.
While Bolton take the physical approach a little further than most second division sides, most of our players have seen, bought the t-shirt and excelled at a level where this style was the norm. In the main defending against, the single front man, Kevin Davies proved simple. The key was to stop the support coming from midfield. Until Stelios and Diouf joined the party in the second half, this was hardly a challenge, and by that time we were two goals to the good.
The first was as much down to energy and tenacity as it was the sublime finish. Bullard collecting the ball close to the half way line and driving forward before playing it to Camara on the edge of the box. Henri returning the favour and feeding Jimmy who’d moved into a right wing position. A cross to the back post was easily cut out by N’Gotty, but a weak and misplaced header fell at the feet of Camara who was cute enough to lift the ball over the keeper.
The second was right out of the Roberts/Ellington handbook. A ball on the turn from the centre circle from Roberts right into the path of his strike partner, only this time it was Camara bursting through with his pace. McCulloch pouncing on the half volley to rifle home after the Bolton defence had given the striker a second chance to cross. Regrettably this saw an outbreak of “easy, easy”. Now don’t get me wrong, there probably is a place for this chant, but when I was a lad it only came out when the score was around 4 or 5 nil. As John Motson was always keen on telling us, 2-0 is a dangerous lead, a point where the game could still go either way but you’re in danger of thinking it’s over.
This point was proven as the second goal woke Bolton up a bit. Their most effective period of the game followed and, as I’ve said earlier, they abandoned the long ball in favour of using their midfield. Stelios and Diouf in particular causing problems their rewarding coming as Jiaidi, lost his marker (but then again what would Bullard have done to stop him anyway?) and put away his free header from a right wing cross.
That wasn’t the end of Bolton’s chances, but at the same time we managed a few of our own. This game differed from others this season in one important respect. Most of the other games we’ve played in could have ended up in a win either way, or a draw, without either team having too many complaints. Whilst Bolton had the chances for a draw they no where near deserved a win in this game. More pleasing still was the way that, unlike in the past, we didn’t get drawn into mirroring their style of play.
It would be unfair to let this one go without mentioning the ‘rivalry’. I think it’s fair to say that there was nothing extra on the pitch to mark this as a Derby, but there rarely is in many games these days.
I wouldn’t like to comment on the atmosphere nearer to the away fans, but in my part of the West Stand the animosity was more than a little watered down by more general football noise. It certainly didn’t feel like any other Wigan v Bolton game I’ve attended but it felt just a sweet as ever when the goals went in but you just didn’t get the impression that McCulloch
was ready to celebrate his with a two fingered salute to our Horwich cousins.
You could be forgiven for thinking it was just another game, if it wasn’t for the constant drone of the GMP helicopter. Either another money spinning piece of excess, or have they not forgotten what it used to be like?
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