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.

 

Bolton at Home. Spanish Day? Perfect Day.

I have been carrying a couple of monkeys on my back for a very long time but now they are gone.

The first has been there since 6th August 2011 though at first I didn’t realise it was a monkey. It was quite small. More like a hamster or gerbil. And who doesn’t like a frisky hamster playing on their back? At least until it poos on you. Recently though, particularly towards the end of the Poyet reign it became massive. More like a gorilla than a monkey. I was having trouble walking. So were the team. That monkey was that we had not won coming from behind since we beat Doncaster on that August day when the stadium opened properly and everything eventually went to script in the 98th minute.

There were times under Poyet when, if we conceded first, it would take every bit of willpower I had not to just go down to the concourse and make the students behind the tills play an extended game of guess the pie flavour, safe in the knowledge that we couldn’t win the game. Not any more. Another comeback win has been achieved. Bye bye gorilla.

The other monkey has always been around the same size and has been there since my birthday last year. It was known as the irrational hatred of Bolton for ruining my birthday monkey. Bolton was my birthday game last season and with best mate replaced by brother as seat companion for the day due to best mate working abroad I made the most of it and we hit the pubs in town early. So I was in remarkably good cheer when I arrived to watch the most frustrating football game of my life.

We dominated. Absolutely all over them. Bolton were metaphorically bending over almost begging for an arse whipping in a worryingly submissive manner but every time we got the chance to inflict it we pulled away, disgusted. We missed chance after chance after chance after chance. Eventually we scored simply because the law of averages said we had to and the three points we richly deserved looked to be heading our way. Until the defence switched off and David Ngog scored with about the last kick of the game to equalize. Here is a birthday present. WHICH I’M NOT GOING TO LET YOU HAVE. Cue howl of frustration.

It’s fair to say that between that game and the fact that Dougie Freedman, ex Palace icon, is still their manager, there was a real will among our fans to beat them this time round. So it was the perfect day for the club’s marketing department to do something special and cringy considering how well the opera singer and clackers had worked against Palace. Saturday was declared Spanish Day and indeed, as I walked round the ground, many people had gone to the trouble of dressing as a Mexican to salute our Catalans, Italians and Argentines. In the first half it was to backfire horribly.

Bolton came out in possibly the most hideous modern kit yet conceived with the possible exception of Liverpool’s third choice colours. Someone hadn’t told their kit designer that players these days tend to wear luminous orange hi viz boots. Either that or they hadn’t told them that said boots would look absolutely horrible underneath a luminous orange hi viz kit. It looked like they’d been dressed by someone who was a massive casualty during the rave era but had now lucked themselves a job in health and safety. “Why is our new kit so bright?” you could imagine Dougie moaning to which the only answer is presumably “you can’t be too careful”.

Anyway, back to backfiring marketing gimmicks. We controlled possession without looking particularly great in the first half yet Bolton had the clearest chance and, even though they didn’t convert it, they went in one up at the break. The chance? As we cleared out of defence the referee paid a bit too much attention to the balloon that had come on the pitch, presumably to celebrate fiesta, and not enough attention to the ball. Not only did the ref get in the way, he played in Bolton with a perfect through ball. Thank Christ PIG saved it.

Undeterred, Spanish Day was then crowned by Spanish Dave scoring an own goal. It was one of those comedy, slow motion, own goals that you can’t believe has actually happened. The ball is still virtually going in as I type and yet no one will or can stop it. Happy fucking Spanish Day.

What Oscar said at half time I’m not sure but it must have been along the lines of whatever the Catalan is for ‘throw the kitchen sink at them’ because that’s exactly what we did. Kazenga in particular looked liberated as he teased and tormented Bolton’s defence, helped and egged on by a ebullient Stephen Ward. Rohan Ince dominated midfield in a colossal performance. Buckley briefly looked back to his old self scoring the third. But, although he didn’t score or get the sponsor’s award it was Kaz who shined the brightest. We equalized from an own goal from a set piece making it even in every sense but then kicked on scoring another two goals in the next four minutes. The Amex went progressively more mental each time and a thousand fake Dirty Sanchez tashes were thrown in the air. On the third goal a small contingent of Bolton fans left. It’s hard to know if they wanted to lynch Dougie or the kit designer.

After that we were never in serious trouble though the bringing on of Bruno in to a role that can only be known as the ‘make a nuisance of yourself’ position upset the formation a little. PIG had to make a couple more good saves and that was it. Bolton got what they should have had last season and we had a come from behind win. All that was left was to have a couple more Cervezas and pelt the train staff with rotten tomatoes.