The Bolton Soapbox: what a difference a striker makes

The up-and-down world of the Sunderland supporter is, for now, up. Pete Sixsmith was not especially looking forward to an afternoon near Bolton but, while no one should be getting ecstatic about recording a second win in a season already 10 games old if you count the Carling Cup, he left the Reebok with the warm glow of encouragement …

That was better. Whether you are a Bruce In or Bruce Out person, it’s a relief to see another three points on the board and witness a second half performance that gives us some hope for the next few weeks.

Managers stand or fall by results and team selection. So far this season, Steve Bruce has had a poor set of results and has picked some teams which have not been universally acclaimed.

At the Reebok he had a full complement of players. Bendtner available, Bardsley back from suspension, Meyler fit; he was now able to select a starting X1 that would hopefully take us out of the trouble zone and into the relative comfort of mid table.

And he did. Out went Cattermole with Vaughan and Colback in the centre of midfield with Sessegnon on the left. Elmohamady joined the former Boro man on the bench and, for the first time this season, we started with two forwards as Connor Wickham made his debut alongside Bendtner – two big lads who were willing to take on Cahill and Wheater at the heart of the Bolton defence.

The first half was about as interesting as a lecture on economic growth in the Orkney islands. The 4,400 fans that filled the visitors’ end were hardly inspired and there was some grumbling. A poor Bolton side missed one chance through Pratley while the nearest we got was an O’Shea header that went wide.

Not a great match for the hordes in Bulgaria, Qatar, Malaysia and Hetton watching on TV. There was little here to suggest that the Premier League was the best in the world. The fans were quiet, which is usual for Bolton, less so for us. But the Reebok Drums were silent so at least there was one positive to take from the opening half.

The second half was much better. Wickham had done well in the first half and his body language looked good. He is a strong player and was prepared to run at Gary Cahill and accept the physical challenges that came with that.

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David Vaughan began to control the midfield and was always looking to play the ball forward. The partnership between him and Colback got better as the minutes ticked on. There was never the fear that one of them would put in a couple of wild tackles and would be stomping down the tunnel. Both sought to be constructive and positive, preferring to play forward rather than backwards.

Their probing gave Sessegnon opportunities to run at Robinson and the little fella took advantage of it. He forced Jaaskelainan into a good save and his ability to lay the ball off presented an opportunity for Kieran Richardson that was well blocked by the Bolton defence.

Wickham grew stronger and hit the bar with an audacious chip but as the minutes went by it began to look as if Bolton were going to hang on for a draw.

Then, with eight minutes left, amid increasing Sunderland pressure, a poor header by Robinson ended up at the feet of Sess and he turned quickly and slammed it into the net. Cue for 4,400 loyal Red and Whites to go mad. One of them Ronnie McDonald got my lips planted firmly on his head. He may not wash for a week; 4,398 may have wished they’d been in his place.

A good save by Mignolet from Pratley kept us ahead and then a quick break by the Benin Boy saw him play in Bendtner who finished it off to seal the win.

So a good afternoon for Steve Bruce, the players and the fans. Smiles as people filed out to the cars, coaches and trains and no doubt huge smiles in the away dressing room. Chuckles and grins as the results came through and we moved up the league into the mid table position that seems to suit us well.

Vaughan, Colback and Wickham put down huge markers for regular selection. They gave us the energy, skill and the ability to open up a defence that have been lacking all season.

We may have turned the corner although it has to be said that Bolton were desperately poor and had the look of permanent strugglers. They never got hold of midfield, where Eagles and Petrov were dreadful. Davies looks as if on his last legs and produced nothing, Brown and the ever improving Michael Turner having him in their pockets.

It was a much more positive line up and maybe Bruce got Wickham’s introduction right, playing him alongside an experienced centre forward and not a dilettante like Gyan. He is a strong player but also light on his feet. He will benefit from an extended run alongside Bendtner.

Next week is another winnable game that could go a long way to defining our season. If we win (and there is nothing in the Villa side to suggest that they are any better than we are), four of the next five games (make that five after United’s debacle against City) fall into the winnable category.

By the middle of December all of this angst could even be behind us and we may be looking forward to a relaxing Christmas. But this is Sunderland isn’t it …

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7 thoughts on “The Bolton Soapbox: what a difference a striker makes”

  1. I agree that we haven’t turned the corner yet. Aston Villa will be up for it on Saturday, after what they would think to be an unfair result against West Brom, and obviously Man U now have much to prove. Our result against Bolton was heartening, but I am not convinced that it signifies a sea change. I still have deep reservations about our manager.

  2. “We may have turned the corner….” Way too soon to say that, I think. I’m not sure we’ve eached reached the corner yet. This was just a few steps in the right direction.

  3. At the end of the season of even well before then, this result will undoubtdedly get Bruce a stay of execution, and it will also be shown to be a completely insignificant result in the grand scheme of things against a woeful side that will be relegated.

    The last nine months of unaabated torture will not be wiped clean by beating Bolton, (as virtually anyone can do that right now). Bruce out!

  4. I think that we should stick with this line up next week vs Villa.
    Larsson on the right with Sess drifting around on the left and given some freedom.
    I do wish that Gardner could be found a place somewhere though. He has potential to get us goals. Colback though played very well and might just be edging Gardner out. I am so pleased to see Elmo on the bench. I think he’ll be useful playing right back against very quick wingers such as NZogbia like he did last season. But, unless his crossing improves then I’m OK with him sitting out. Larsson will be a big key for us this season. Wickham looks a bit inexperienced to me but has loads of potential. I’m not expecting many goals from him this season, but I think he edges out Ji, who has got a lot of potential but needs to impose himsef more and get in there with more confidence. We need to spend big in January though. Either Pav or Cisse.

  5. A good day out thankfully for once not spoiled by 90 minutes football.Win lose or draw it was exactly the starting XI I would have chosen (no great recommendation in itself ) and although the first half was marginally better than of late ,in the second we really showed the value of having an attacking attitude ;long may it last.Just one observation following on from Cattermole’s criticism of Reid of West Brom.It does seem that referees are more likely to give a yellow card when the’fouled ‘player goes down writhing in agony clutching their ankle or face or whatever before an amazing recovery in time to join in with the free-kick.I find it the worst kind of cheating and I think Mike Jones fell for this at Bolton as it seemed to me that our three bookings were harsh considering that no Bolton players received a booking.

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