When one team’s one and only real possibility to score is when a keeper makes a hash of clearing a ball and the other’s is one cleared off the line from a corner, neither side can have any complaint about 0-0. To our credit, we defended well; the other side of the coin is that Bolton played like they are already on their holidays and just might have been there for the taking, with more belief on our part. Whether this turns out to be a decent point gained or an opportunity lost is now down to the results of others.
The team saw Fox come in for the injured Wiggins, Morrison return for Wood, Ajdarevic and Ghoochannejhad in place of Harriott and Obika, and Church in for the unavailable Sordell, with the unfortunate Cousins now shunted from a position behind the lone striker to a sort of wide right. Defensively the choices were perfectly understandable; offensively it looked like a case of whether the two wildcards (AA and Reza) would be able to combine to cause them problems. The fact that they were not left the onus on the defence to keep a clean sheet, which thanks to the dramatic clearance off the line it did. What was perhaps curious was that five of those on the bench for Tuesday night started the game, albeit with two enforced changes. Rotation or no idea of the best starting X1?
I’m really not sure whether to take the positive interpretation of the game – that we restricted Bolton to very few opportunities – or the negative – that having built up the game to turn The Valley into a ‘sea of red’ to cheer the team to victory we didn’t have the belief to take the game by the scruff of the neck and beat a team that, although perhaps more proficient, were lacking in motivation. Like so many games this season it probably boiled down to who scored first. Neither side deserved to, which left the game to turn on a goal-line clearance and a decision by the ref and the linesman: if they decided that Church was brought down by their keeper it’s a penalty and a red card and we probably win. They looked at each other but presumably neither felt willing or able to make a call in our favour.
There’s not much point in going through the game in sequence. The first half passed without any meaningful attempts on goal. We had some decent patterns of play but nothing in the final third. They looked as though they were capable of more but were snuffed out by good defending, with Fox slotting in well and Morrison playing as if the decision to leave him on the bench against Barnsley was plain daft. At the same time, when Bolton left the pitch at the break I doubt that their defenders had had an easier 45 minutes this season. Some neat passes, some decent movement, but absolutely no suggestion that this would result in a scoring opportunity.
Bolton began the second half with some more purpose and for a while threatened to get the goal that would probably have secured the points for them. I’m not sure of the sequence of events after their corner that saw the ball hooked off the line, or indeed who did the hoocking, but it looked goal-bound from where I sat and I was mighty relieved. Our moment saw their keeper dawdle with a back pass and Church nip in. For a second it looked as though he would put it into an empty net, only for him to end up on the floor. Whether he slipped or was taken down would need some TV replays to determine, but it seemed to me that it was the latter, in which case we were robbed.
After that the changes came, to no great effect. Reza and Ajdarevic were replaced by Obika and Green, and after that Church departed for Hughes, with for a while Green playing as a second forward, then out right as Cousins had to try to find another position. Nothing made much difference and quite frankly the game petered out into the stalemate that most neutrals would have bet on after five minutes.
The positives for us were the assured performance of Fox, the stability to the defence from the return of Morrison (which of course begs the question of why he missed the crucial game against Barnsley), and the decent work by Poyet and Jackson in protecting the back four. The BBC stats indicate that we had 18 attempts on goal; the fact that I can’t remember a single one is, for me, a fair reflection on the chances of them producing a goal. So we sit and wait now to see what the others do. If this report sounds dull, sorry but that was the game.