Filed: Thursday, 7th December 2006
By: Matthew Coker
The games are starting to come thick and fast, no sooner have we got back to East London, then we are required to head on the hated M6 as we begin a televised footballing trilogy. This time it is destination Reebok as we take on our old foes, Bolton Wanderers, in the quest for that all elusive three point road trip. The 5.15pm kick off at least ensures that we can have a bit of a Saturday morning lie in.
Our opponents have had a mixed bag this season that leaves them 9th in the league, 17 points off top spot and 10 points better off than us. Their season got off to a flyer as they only tasted defeat once in the opening nine games and notched up three away victories in the process. Recent form has dipped a bit, they have only recorded one league victory since late October and that was against the roll over and die unit that is Arsene and the boys.
Of more interest to us is their home form, which follows the pattern of the season. They have managed to beat Sp*rs, Watford, Liverpool and Arsenal at home, but most of those have come before October. Boro managed to scrape a point out of their visit and Chelsea, Man Yoo (0-4) and Wigan have recently gone home smiling. The latest home defeats have co-incided with difficult fixtures (Man Yoo and Chelsea) but their form at present (one point from Bramall Lane, Goodison and the Majeski) show that it might be a good time to take them on.
Bolton manager Sam Allardyce. He wasn’t.
What goes on the job spec for an assistant coach? I can only imagine that stage presence and media skills are up at the top somewhere as the role of Carlos Quieroz spreads throughout football. Essentially, Ricky Sbragia’s job at Bolton involves warming up Sam Allardyce’s dug out seat in the first half while he chews gum up in the gods before covering for him in front of Garth Crooks at the post match interview.
The big man is still not talking to the Beeb after the recent documentary insinuated that his transfer dealings were less than honest and that he personally profited for some transfers. The documentary has not been conclusive enough to get Allardyce charged by the FA yet, nor has it convinced the Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside to get shot of his head coach, but you can bet it is up Phil’s sleeve as a severance pay free way to get rid of Sam if the results turn sour.
The Trotters have suffered injury depletion at the back to the extent where striker, Henrik Pedersen has had to step in at left back. They should be able to put out full complement of proper defenders in front of Jussi Jaaskelainen at the weekend, starting with the two Abdoulaye’s centre back pairing, the Senegalise Faye and the Frenchman, Meite.
The full backs have recently been the versatile Israeli Tal Ben Haim on the left hand side and token local lad, Nicky Hunt on the right. However, the supporters will crossing their fingers for a return on the left hand side to last season’s player of the season, Richardo Gardner, who turned out for the stiffs in midweek and will be hoping to make his season’s debut after yet another period of knee related inactivity.
Big Sam has steered clear of the traditional 4-4-2 this campaign, preferring a three main central midfield and three strikers with two of them acting as wide men. They’ve tended to have a player in front of the back four and this role has predominantly fallen to the more experienced members of the squad, showcasing the talents of 37 year old Gary Speed or the bubble permed Spaniard, Ivan Campo. Faye has also filled in on occasion.
The more advanced central midfield places have been shared between Speed, the first product of the Bolton academy, Kevin Nolan, diving Greek wideman, Stelios Giannakopoulos or summer signing Idan Tal. Now, there have been occasions in the past when the Bolton midfield had little more to do that to look skyward as yet another long ball flew over their heads, but the supporters have begun to demand more of late.
The general consensus amongst fans is that the midfield is full of robust destroyers such as Nolan and Speed but that there is not a natural playmaker that is able to control the midfield and more importantly create chances for the forwards. Tal has proved his attacking ability and can take players on, as can Stelios but the Reebok faithful rue missing out on Yossi and also Greed Malbranque who they were linked with in the summer before his move to the Tottscum.
The three pronged attack is led by Nicolas “The Incredible Sulk” Anelka. He joined in the summer and breaks the mould of a typical Allardyce signing in that he is neither untried in the Premiership nor is he potentially past his shelf life and subsequently set Bolton back to the tune of Ł8m, a new club record. You could argue that Kinelka’s as long as your arm CV convinced Sam that he was older than he is but his contribution of two goals so far, both against old employers L’Arse has not provided much of a return on investment.
This however, may not be all down to a lack of form by chuckle chops but more that Bolton are trying to fit him into their system (ie thumping balls at him) rather than playing to his strengths of speed and good finishing. Hopefully they won’t have sussed this prior to Saturday.
Football always contains a few pantomime villains, a select bunch of individuals that come into more contact with boos than the landlord of the Wakefield on a Saturday afternoon and right up there alongside Lily Savage is El Hadj Diouf. There is a slightly more sinister side to his persona as recent wife beating allegations prove but perhaps he was trying to live up to the stereotypical Northern night portrayed in that well known London football anthem. He has settled into his new wide role well, working hard at both ends of the pitch and converting four goals in the process.
From Le Sulk to the man sometimes christened, “The Incredible Bulk”, Kevin Davies. The Bolton battering ram does possess a mammoth frame but contradicts this with some deft touches at times. He provides commitment in abundance which has firmly positioned him as a fan’s favourite and he has matched Nic’s tally of two this season.
Kevin Nolan, Bolton Captain.
Writing this on a Thursday morning, post the disaster that was last night was never going to inspire a positive frame of mind. You wouldn’t have needed to look at a league table to work out that we were a bottom three side last night and teams are finding beating us way too easy at the moment.
The hard fact is that we have been sussed out by everyone. Wigan have not played with a solitary striker all season but a quick look at our games made it clear to Jewell that his five man midfield will be able to easily contain our four, hence the only chances our front players will get, they will have to create themselves. Everyone is on the case of Nigel and Matty and I am not claiming that either of those two are on top of their game, but they are always outnumbered and covered by an extra man so would have to be some kind of superstars to make an impact with those odds.
Pardew has shown in the past that he is not afraid to make big decisions and he’ll need to show that acumen again before the weekend. I just hope that he can recognise that we are losing the game in midfield, we need to create more chances and that we need to change tactics and possibly personnel to achieve this end.
To get it back together in three days is a tall order and it is difficult to see how we are going to get anything at the Reebok. However, the lack of confidence demonstrated by the home side means I am optimistically going to have us down for a nerve racking 1-1, with a Harewood goal and nine men on the line for the last twenty being enough to stop the run of consequetive defeats.
Enjoy the game.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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