Bolton Wanderers At Home 15/16 – That’s Entertainment

 

So, obviously, what I need to talk about after another victory, another three goals and another midfield masterclass from Beram Kayal is my bloody running. OK, I probably don’t, but the pledge to give up booze for three months isn’t going so well. That Harvey’s, when it’s poured looks like golden nectar especially when you have been dry for the previous eight days. And something is needed to lubricate the throat so that one can cheer one’s team to victory (apologies there, Prince Phillip appears to have taken over momentarily). Man cannot subsist on Voice Tablets alone.

Corruption and promise breaking are rife at Brighton But Only At Home towers. “Not drinking” has become “event drinking”. Meanwhile, since the appearance of the Cheese Eating Poker School last time out, The Boy has insisted on betting on the correct score at the end of the game among our group. This means quids in. He certainly is. Every game he fails to bring his pocket money and cons me for a programme. Now I have to put a correct score bet on for him too. No ripped up pie wrappers this week though, we simply chose what we thought the correct score would be at the end of the game. I went for 2-0. The Boy 3-0. @BrightonStevieP (who was back off the sick bench) went for 3-1 and his son 2-1. We scoffed a little at this, the writer and his statto son. How would BOLTON score a goal? They had Emile Bloody Heskey up front FFS (I said this, not The Boy, and more politely). Whoops.

Never, ever underestimate an opponent. Or indeed a friend. Another rule at Brighton But Only At Home is that I don’t watch the highlights before I write. I have broken this rule too this week. An hour before kick off I had a call from the leader of the Cheese Eating Poker School who normally never comes on a Saturday. He’d managed to get both a “pass” and a ticket for the game. The only issue was that it was in a different stand to us. Here’s where the ticket staff at the Albion are brilliant as he managed to negotiate a transfer to sit with us (it helped that the seats were of identical value). Such transactions take time and so it was he arrived bang on ten minutes. We all said hello, as you do, and then looked back on to the pitch to see Jamie Murphy racing clear of the Bolton defence. A split second later he’d managed a perfect recreation of his third against Brentford and was wheeling off in celebration. So, if I hadn’t watched back the highlights I’d have been unable to tell you it was the result of a brilliant through ball from deep in our own half by Kayal, or that Murphy had burned up their defence like a greyhound on speed. But I just have. So there.

That should have been it, shouldn’t it. That early goal to calm the nerves, at home against a team who were bottom of the table. We should kick on from there. Especially with Heskey doing his best Oil Tanker impression. Surely it was just a matter of how many we’d score now. 2-0, on reflection, was looking a bit pessimistic. But if that’s what I was thinking then I think our players were too. The difference is they are paid not to. Concentration for ninety minutes needs to be the watchword (hang on, that’s more than one word. Watchwords?) and concentrate we did not. A nice spell of possession for them ended with the ball being slipped out to their left where Bruno, not for the first time, was slightly out of position. This was also enough to mesmerise our centre backs in to unforgivable lethargy as the nine hundred and sixty four year old Heskey stood alone at the back stick and converted the inevitable low cross for 1-1. Twenty two minutes and my betting slip was metaphorically ripped up, not for the first time in my life.

To our credit we realised something needed to be done about this situation and we laid siege to their goal. Amos, in Bolton’s sticks started to have a blinder (more of goalkeeping blinders later by the way), keeping out a brilliant long range shot from Kayal after good work down our left. Then more good work from Kayal saw him slip through his Israeli partner Hemed who was tripped from behind in the box. Referee Robert Lewis, having a bizarre day that also included a text book tackle in centre midfield, before going off injured, failed to give the spot kick. Boos rang round the ground.

The boos soon turned to delirious cheers. We scored what I tweeted at the time was the “best team goal seen at The Amex”. I’m still struggling to recall a better one (Ulloa versus Palace in the Paddy’s Day Massacre was suggested) though this most perfect of team goals had a brilliant individual contribution. From deep in our half the defence released Knockaert on the right (team move one). He ran over half the length of the pitch, beating Spearing first for skill, then for strength and finally for speed, so that the latter even failed in his attempt to push Knockaert over. A low cross found Zamora who was tightly marked. Hemed was clear behind him. Surely Bobby hadn’t seen him, as we all could in the WSU? Using the force Bobby sensed his presence and produced a back heeled flick of such perfect weight that all Tomer had to do was tap in to an empty net. 2-1. So stuff not watching the highlights. It’s a goal I could watch over and over again, and have. There was still time for Amos to pull off another stunning save from a close range effort after brilliant work down the right from Bruno and Knockaert and we went in 2-1 up at half time.

Though it had been a magical attacking half our lack of concentration at the back had nearly done for us so no doubt this was being enforced down in the dressing room. Much like the nine year olds I coach this was going in one ear and out the other as we tried desperately to talk ourselves out of the game. Fair play to Bolton, a side who were bottom did not park the bus but had a go at us whenever they could, and they made it a VERY entertaining spectacle (for the neutral anyway, my blood pressure was through the roof at times). But we made it so hard for ourselves. Firstly we failed to defend a set piece, a long free kick in to the box this time which we never got on top of. The inevitable second ball came out and Spearing struck it invitingly through a crowd of players and in to the centre of the net. 2-2. Do we practice set pieces? Ever?

Worse was nearly to come. From our set piece a long, hopeful clearance was launched by Bolton, but luckily Bruno had it covered. The full back with the best technical touch in the division could not make up his mind whether to trap it or volley it back in. He did neither and miss kicked hopelessly, letting in the menacing Liam Feeney clear on goal. Had he scored I have no doubt we’d have lost, but luckily out came Stockdale to block. We celebrated like it was a goal.

And then, finally, they cocked up at the back just as badly. Amos rolled it out for a change but some ponderous play saw Kayal rob the ball back. He put in his unmarked mate Hemed (how well those two link up at times) but carried on his run. Hemed produced his own Bobby-like flick and Kayal curled it low in to the corner. 3-2. More bedlam.

That knocked the stuffing out of Bolton. The much vaunted Zach Clough came on and did nothing as we pushed for a fourth. First Zamora missed the far post by inches with a shot on the turn, then his replacement Lua Lua forced an excellent save from Amos from a free kick, and finally we were done after six minutes of injury time caused mainly by an injury to the ref himself.

Some great performances from some. Kayal, Stockdale and Murphy can be particularly proud while Knockaert and Zamora’s contributions to THAT goal will live long in the memory. A slightly less great performance from some others. But three points is three points.

This morning a two hour twenty “easy” run (ha!) stretches out in front of me. Still I had a celebration pint. Then I went for dinner with friend and had carb loading in the form of curry and rice and five a day in the form of fermented grape juice. This morning will be hard work but, if I struggle, I will just visualise our second goal.

 

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Forest At Home 2014/15 – Mistakes

I barely know where to start with that game. Thirteen hours from the final whistle, hours that have included sleep, more beer that I should reasonably have had given that I need to go out for a four mile run this morning and attempting to deconstruct our failings with friends, other writers and disappointed small boys and I still don’t really know how we managed to lose it. But lose it we did and we are very much still in a relegation scrap.

Could I weave a narrative around my whole day as I sometimes do (what my friend Ian calls the Brian Johnston approach)? I could, but in that respect it was unspectacular. A good day with friends ruined by ninety minutes of football, as I later posted on my Facebook account. No, we’d better dive in and analyse one of the more frustrating afternoons at what is fast becoming The Theatre of Frustration.

Other games in Chris Hughton’s reign have been games of two halves. This was not. We lost our last home game 3-2 as well but this was no Arsenal either. A muted atmosphere greeted the players and the seats around me that have been empty most of the season were back to being empty again. However we didn’t start by giving our red-clad opposition too much respect. We started in the driving seat. In fact, for the first forty two minutes you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were Arsenal and Forest were, well, us. They may have had a new manager but I can’t remember seeing a less interested team at the Amex ever. We were first to the ball. Every challenge. We were creating chances. They weren’t. We had well over sixty percent possession. We had more shots, more corners, more chutzpah and more desire.

Yet, even then the mistakes had started. March, who was very much part of the audacious yet patient start was fouled in a manner that The Boy always describes as a “dirty hack”, injuring him. No yellow from the ref. Mistake. The injury was bad enough for him to have to come off. We brought on the only-just-fit Lua Lua to play seventy minutes. Mistake. We realised that Forest were not exactly crash hot at defending set pieces, not a mistake at all. We hit a perfect cross to an unmarked player. Not a mistake at all. Except that player was Greer (who had a howler all day long). Mistake. His header from probably no more than four yards out squirted wide when it was easier to score, and scoreboard wise at least the pressure stayed off Forest. Mistake.

Finally even we couldn’t keep missing and from a similar set piece Dunk was credited with finally applying the finish. Three minutes remained to just keep playing the way we were and we’d go in deservedly one up. I looked at Mark and mouthed “we just need not to concede now”. Mistake. The North Stand roared “Dougie, Dougie what’s the score?”. Mistake. Teixeira, who had been excellent up to then overcommitted to winning the ball back near the touchline and gave away a silly free kick. Mistake. The ball in seemed easy to deal with but no one had factored in Stockdale having one of his moments. He rushed out halfway but failed to clear the ball out or retreat, standing alone in no man’s land like an unlucky Tommy who’s misheard his CO. Collins couldn’t believe his luck, the ball DOBBLING in to the net off a post. Mistake.

We had dominated the first half 1-1. It was, in fact, not unlike the Cardiff home game, but, if anything was certain, it was that the second half would be different.  So it proved. Forest let us have far less time on the ball, putting in to clear focus that this was not a game of two halves, but of two sets of players, those having a fine afternoon, and those having a nightmare. In the former category were Teixiera (making a nuisance of himself), COG (likewise), Dunk (holding the defence together by himself) and, particularly Ince (rampaging, as per). In the latter were the aforementioned Greer and Stockdale, both full backs and, sadly, Calde (out of position). Not only did Forest find new belief, and more of the ball, they suddenly realised our full backs were about as good at defending as a Frenchman in a nice café. Far down our right Ince found himself covering for an exposed Bruno and having to commit an identical foul to the one that did for March (though this one drew a yellow from a referee who was inconsistent and, yes, prone to mistakes). The free kick was in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, and I think all of us at this point still had Forest’s opener in our minds. However it was still defendable. I still haven’t been able to watch the goal back so I may be unfair here, but basically Lansbury was able to shoot low on the ground and in to the far corner from an angle that was tighter than Paul Barber with a new spreadsheet. Yes it had been tapped to him. Yes it was well driven. But, still, how the hell did he score from there? Did it go through the wall? Was the wall badly positioned? Was Stockdale in the right place? There was at least one mistake there anyway. Now we weren’t drawing undeservedly, we were losing undeservedly and Forest were about to get the bit between their teeth.

Yet, as mistake ridden as we were, luck was also not on our side, Back we came for another charge and a great move produced a clear opening for Teixeira who hit the post, the ball rebounding harmlessly back to Darlow. Back came Forest Chris Burke easing down our left (and how many goals have we conceded from attacks down that side this season? It’s about 735 isn’t it?) and finding an unmarked Osborn to tap in with Greer in the same no man’s land that Stockdale had found earlier. 3-1.

With five minutes left on came Beram Kayal. And here is my last hope of us avoiding relegation. Chris Hughton had been my first hope but he can only work with the tools in his box. In Kayal we may just have a magic spanner. Here’s his game summary:

Came on. Immediately demanded the ball in an intelligent position. First pass went astray and apologies all round. Chased back when he lost it. Controlled spinning ball in the air dead with the top of his foot. Sprayed wonder pass with outside of foot. Scored (3-2). Nearly equalized with final kick of the game. It was quite some five minute cameo but why only five minutes. Delayed too long? Mistake. Or still carrying an injury, making him another Vicente which would be, you guessed it, a mistake.

I would have dearly loved that equalizer to have gone in as three quarters of the crowd seemed to be already in the train queue. Not us though. Afterwards I moaned along with the writers of three other blogs. We stayed for an extra beer to try to get over the frustration of the afternoon (most definitely not a mistake at the time but I bet I’ll consider it so when I’m on my run). On the train home we had a good laugh with some Forest fans who’d been making the most of our hospitality. “Don’t get relegated” said one. “We like coming down here”.

I bet you do lads. I bet you do.