Sunday, 21 August 2011

Super Sunday at the Reebok

As a Blades fan it is not often you get the opportunity to watch a top of the table clash in the Premier League, but with the kids off to their grandparents for a few days I was able to join my wife (a season ticket holder at Bolton) at the Reebok as the top 2 from week one clashed.
It was a late call, up until mid afternoon Saturday I was still contemplating watching it on the sofa and saving the £28 that the cheapest Reebok tickets cost, but the lure of live football was too much to ignore. It was a good decision. 

Taking my seat behind the goal just before kick off i had a great view, only slightly obscured when Rik Waller took the seat in front shortly after. I was then further upset, picking up the match programme to be faced with a roaring Paul Robinson. He has never been one of my favourite players and was one of the most frequently nominated players in the My Dislikable XI series, so I am clearly not the only one. The sight of The Poisonous Squirrel in ecstatic open mouthed celebration was nearly enough to send me to the concourse. It really should be 18 rated top-shelf material.

Children - avert your eyes

Despite the empty seats, not unexpected given the ease with which I had been able to get one the day before, a decent atmosphere was building. Local rivalries stoked up further by an appeal in yesterday's papers from Wanderers' right back Gretar Steinsson for a fair welcome for Kun Aguero, stating that he had forgiven the Argentine for a spitting incident in Bolton's UEFA Cup clash with Atletico Madrid clash 3 years ago. The thing is, most Bolton fans had forgoteen it............until they read the article. Needless to say his every touch was booed and his name was often called out with a 't' on the end.

The only down side to the atmosphere were the youths with the drums pitchside, bang in front of me. I am sorry you shouldn't need a 12 year old with a bass drum to thump out your chants. 

You can stick your drumsticks up....

The match started at a decent tempo with both sides pushing forward with decent movement and play in an open game. Silva and Aguero were busy for City, popping up across the front line and often deeper, although Bolton worked hard to close them down and limit opportunities. Whilst the Wanderers attacked with intent and created a chance or two of their own, but too often their final ball was lacking, particularly from wide.

The big differences between the two teams could be summed up as pace and strength. City's back 4 and their central midfield shield looked tall and imposing and were able to brush off Bolton players with ease at times. Even the more diminutive players like Silva, Aguero and Milner seemed able to hold off challenges better than their Bolton counterparts. As much through speed of feet and balance as brutal strength. Players like Petrov and Eagles displayed little appetite for battle for Bolton.

Having said that, Lescott and Kompany (the Belgian in particular) were perhaps lucky to escape without a booking for persistent fouling, especially given the frequency of Mike Jones’ whistle. You cannot help feeling that if they had been up against a different opponent than Kevin Davies, the referee might not have been so lenient with the cards.
The fact that City took the lead in a half relatively even with chances, was due to a blunder from Jussi Jaaskelainen. A relatively tame shot from Silva squirmed under Jaaskelainen’s body and over the line. After being an impressive shot stopper over the last 10 years or so, there are noticeable signs that the years are starting to catch up with Bolton’s legendary custodian. Increasingly last season, including the high profile occasion of the FA Cup semi final, the Finnish keeper has demonstrated errors of judgement and slowness of reaction that suggest Adam Bogdan may be getting a chance sooner rather than later.
This may seem a tad harsh and I am taking nothing away from what was Gareth Barry's only contribution to the match, but I think Jussi was also slow off the mark for City's second. Sat right behind it, I thought that he had plenty of time to size it up and potentially stop it.

It would have been easy to assume that Bolton were out of the game at this point, but far from it. Continuing their commitment to attacking play, Bolton continued to look for opportunities against a City side that showed no signs of wanting to protect a lead. Throughout the game, City played with an attacking intent that was as much to their detriment (allowing Bolton space to play) as it was to their credit.

With seven minutes left in the half, Barry’s goal was the signal for many Bolton fans to head for the concourse for pie and pint and many will have only seen Klasnic pull one back with a sweet strike on TV screens as they queued. The ground was lifted once more and there was renewed optimism in the home end going into the break. Optimism that was soon knocked, right at the start of the second half.
Another mistake, a miscue from Knight, let in Dzeko and the Bosnian finished with aplomb. Despite this he looks far from the finished article. Travelling home I read tweets from respected football journalists saying how Dzeko impressed. Yet for me, he is a hard running front man, with a heavy touch and looks far from assured on the ball.
Behind once more, Bolton again fought back and a perfect glancing header from Davies beat Hart and clipped in off the inside of the post. At this point, with a rousing crowd encouraging the Wanderers forward and plenty of time left, I believed the Wanderers might have the momentum to draw level. Yet each attack seemed to fall down on the edge of the 18 yard box.
A Bolton attack falls down

In the end, City looked more likely to extend their lead creating clear cut chances and the increasingly influential James Milner drifted in from the left and created some great openings. Tevez came on to good effect, all it lacked was end product - shots flashing wide of target or blocked.
At the final whistle City fans were understandably delighted. Bolton fans had mixed emotions. Relief that the scoreline was respectable, frustration with the manner in which they gifted City two of the goals and at the fact that they couldn’t fight their way back level. I had enjoyed an open and entertaining game.
Bolton can look forward to a better season than I imagined pre-season. The squad is still a little lightweight, although a return to fitness and form of Mark Davies will help, as will the return from serious injury of Stuart Holden and Sean Davis. They still need a couple more players in their squad and an injection of pace is vital, particularly to offer something different up front. In the absence of Tuncay today, there was only Robbie Blake available to provide an option off the bench.
Their style of play is an ever-changing mix of direct play and short interchanges of passing. One such patient spell of little triangles eventually led to a great chance for Eagles in the second half only for it to be skewed and spurned. Chances like that need to be grabbed, especially when at a premium.

Back in Black - but not yet in the black

City displayed an impressive combination of strength and guile which, allied with attacking intent, showed a marked shift away from games earlier in Mancini’s reign. The chants of “Boring, Boring City” from their fans were rightly ironic. However, they did leave themselves open and better teams, with a little more craft, could have really had them rocking at 3-2 and even pulled level.
Mancini spoke afterwards of signing Nasri this week and you have to wonder where he fits in. City have such a large and talented squad that pieces of the jigsaw are seemingly inter-changeable from one week to the next. How seamlessly Mancini can achieve this tinkering will determine how successful City will be.
So what of my Premier League experience? Well it was a good, end to end game, with some world class players on show. I saw that, despite what Sky might try and tell you, the newly anointed Premier League saviour Aguero is human; shooting over from 8 yards with Jaaskelainen struggling to get back in position. It was played in a less than full stadium with the somewhat manufactured and derivative atmosphere that clubs and sometimes fans seem to want to foist on us these days. From the drummers and cheerleaders behind the goal, to Depeche Mode blaring out after Wanderers’ goals, to the celebration of the fans of the fifth best team in Poland by the fans of the fourth best team in England it is all a bit forced and, unlike the boys from Basildon, of that I can get enough.

The Polish celebration

Ticket: £28
View: Good
Programme: £3 (should have been discounted based on the cover)
Match Rating: 8/10
Value for money: 6/10  

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