This was another game that we might have expected to win. Since the MON revolution got off to such a fantastic start, the reality of the squad’s capabilities is maybe beginning to show. In recent weeks we have had to settle for draws against sides we fans thought should be beatable and the hopes of a top eight place are now on hold. Saturday’s game produced another disjointed performance against a side supposedly fighting for survival. The Chelsea hammering of QPR and the effect it has had on the relative goal differences must give Trotters’ fans cause for optimism. Their point at the SSOL was deserved but whilst they go into the remaining weeks of the season dreaming of Premiership survival we must once again content ourselves with the hope that summer signings will lead to greater things. At least we are not caught up in the dreaded drop avoidance scenario this year. Pete Sixsmith gives his views on the game and speculates on what the team selection tells the manager about some of his squad.
Drought over – in Sunderland at least
At 3.36 yesterday, Jack Colback delivered a sharp pass to Nicklas Bendtner, who took one touch and slid it past the Bolton keeper, to end a goal drought that appeared to have lasted since Noah was building his ark.
That levelled the scores in a game that had started slowly for us and well for Bolton . As we struggled to get out of the blocks, we were reminiscent of Billy Bunter with a large wardrobe tied to his ankle, competing in a sprint race with a rocket propelled Ursain Bolt.
Passes had been misdirected, most players had a first touch as subtle as a Rupert Murdoch apology and the skipper had been booked for a petulant challenge that should further debit his bank balance, after he has paid for the damage caused by his late night antics in Stowell Street .
However, his companion that fateful night put a smile on some pretty grim faces and we had Wanderers on the back foot up to and after half time.
When James McClean slotted home a fine free kick, it looked as if we were going to run away with it and send Bolton and their travelling platoon of fans, back across the Pennines pointless.
Alas no. Not content with letting Kevin Davies stand unmarked so he could score the opening goal, we allowed him to equalise with a header which owed a fair bit to his ability to get away from defenders and a fair bit to Matt Kilgallon’s inability to pick up forwards at the far post.
It may be harsh to blame the former Sheffield United man, but if he was designated to pick up Davies, he failed on two occasions and on both, the man who has committed more fouls than anyone else in Premier League history, scored. The fact that Kilgallon was replaced by Wayne Bridge soon after and was studiously ignored by the manager as he plonked himself down on the bench, may well signify his final appearance of the season in a first team shirt.
I don’t intend to use him as a scapegoat, but I would imagine that both he and Turner would have been told not, emphatically not, to leave Davies unmarked. They did. He scored. We drew.
A win for us would have been hard on Bolton, who played well in patches, but who equally looked quite ragged at times. Alas, without a regular goalscorer, we were unable to take advantage of it and it looks like we will struggle to emulate the elevated position that The Brucester achieved for us last year.
Bendtner showed some excellent touches but frustrates. It will be interesting to see what he does in the Euros and whether he gets the move he wants. I would think the Bundesliga is a fair bet for the Dane. His colleague, Sess, had a frustrating game and seemed to be doing too much. His shot selection was poor and he also needed to take a second and sometimes, third touch. They both look like players who need this season to come to an end.
The service they got from midfield was not great. Fraizer Campbell is not a wide midfield player and Cattermole and Colback do not give a great deal of creativity in the centre of midfield. Oh for a Luca Modric or a Stephen Pienaar to open up the opposition. Instead we have a captain who gives the ball away and then fouls his opponent right under the watchful gaze of the referee.
However, we do have James McClean, who is most definitely not waiting for the end of the season. Playing against Bolton Wanderers may be run of the mill for the old pros but for James it must be a pleasure and a privilege after years of running up and down the touch line at Galway and Sligo. His goal was a gem and his crossing was good. Should he train on next year, he will be a real star.
Games like this should give the manager a real idea of the strengths and weaknesses of his squad. Craig Gordon looked good; his distribution was better than Mignolet’s and he made a couple of outstanding saves. It’s difficult to know whether to offer him a new contract. I suspect he won’t have the option and that he will join another Premier League club.
Elmo gave a nice little cameo but it could well be that he is on his way as well. In fact, Gary Bennett, in his pre match chat, indicated that there could be quite a few exiting the Stadium, including one or two surprises. We shall see.
Bolton may well survive, although much will depend on how QPR and Blackburn do today. Wigan’s renaissance was greatly appreciated by the crowd, who clearly wanted our pie eating friends to continue rattling goals in at the DW Stadium after an exhilarating first 45 minutes. The prospect of 7,000 (or was it millions – they have so many fans!) Black and Whites writing Boycout Banners was one to savour.
Bolton appear to have about 700 fans. I thought their turn out was very poor and I once again ask the question, what do they bring to the Premier League? If that were us and we were fighting to stay up and we had won a vital game away midweek and it was only a couple of hours away, we would have taken 3-4,000. Bolton brought one section of the away end. They can all spread out nicely upstairs in the North Stand next season if they stop up.
Two games to go. Fulham is a winnable one as they also appear to be losing interest in the season. As the coach is picking up at 5.30 next Sunday morning, I expect that we have a real go at them before we return home to what could, or could not, be a title decider at the SoL in two weeks time. Maybe that will be us in 12 months time?