The Premier League – Saturday 8th November 2008
Reality bites, and perceptions of the impending winter months adjust themselves accordingly. For City are still sixth, but the giddy days of mid-October are now memories to cherish. Not that we are unduly alarmed by events against Bolton at the Circle – rather, it may serve as a useful reminder of the hardships of life at this level.
On a blustery afternoon at yet another sold-out Circle, Phil Brown kept faith with the 4-3-3 formation that’s seen City storm up the table of late, making only one change in personnel – that being the widely expected restoration of Ian Ashbee to the side at the expense of Bryan Hughes, as the Tigers lined up: Myhill; McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson; Marney, Ashbee (c), Boateng; Geovanni, Cousin, King. It meant no place in the team or squad for former Bolton star Stelios.
For Fulham, record signing Johan Elmander returned to the side but Kevin Nolan was absent through suspension. This being the day before Remembrance Sunday, a minute’s silence was requested – the club’s astoundingly crass suggestion of a minute’s applause having being rightly reversed in the days before the match. Unfortunately the visiting Lancastrians found this requirement a little tricky, and it was curtailed early by referee Alan Wiley as a small number of Bolton fans began singing during it, with the inevitable response by City fans. A regrettable episode.
The Tigers were attacking the South Stand, but it was a quiet start to the game – the most notable incident being the visiting supporters’ repeated attempts to ingratiate themselves with Phil Brown. Quite what Gary Megson made of this one can only guess, although one imagines our manager found it quite flattering. Even given football’s capacity for surprises, it’s hard to imagine Mr Brown taking a backward step at this stage of his career, but we salute the optimism of our guests.
On the pitch, it was stolid fare. Geovanni sent a twenty-five yard shot harmlessly into the keeper’s hands before Marlon King nearly gave City the lead when he improvised a stunning flick to divert a Geovanni cross over Jussi Jaskelainen’s head, but the ball bounced almost apologetically off the frame of the goal and away to safety. Bolton were approaching the game with an approach typical of Gary Megson – organised, scrappy, irksomely effective, and it was a poor game to watch and a unhappy quietude settled among both sets of fans.
Ian Ashbee caused some concern among the visitor’s defence with a header from a Dawson corner, and the City left-back was cautioned moments later when he chopped down Gardner as Bolton attempted to break.
On we plodded, City growing a little exasperated at their inability to break through. The tireless Cousin came close with a header from a Boateng cross, but it failed to test the Bolton keeper, clad in retina-scarring fluorescent green attire.
Geovanni had another shooting chance from distance when City were awarded a free-kick, but the wall was unflinching and it deflected the ball to safety. As we approached the break, Boaz Myhill brought uncomfortable memories of his blunder that gifted Chelsea a goal recently, haring from his goal area to challenge Gardner for a ball he could never reach – the ball was shifted away from the frantic City keeper and squared, but with no Wanderer in sight the ball was cleared. And that was that – a grim, dour half of football.
Things got worse at the start of the second half. A rare Bolton raid saw them force a corner which was half-cleared, but fell to Matt Taylor, unmarked fifteen yards from goal. He swung it at with his left foot, and mis-hit the ball towards goal. Myhill was badly unsighted and reacted late, as the ball squirted past him at the near post. The Bolton players and fans celebrated as much in surprise as delight, while Myhill bitterly cursed the defence that had let him down. It was a deeply unlovely goal to concede, and while Myhill’s reactions may have appeared faulty, he was exposed and unsighted.
Phil Brown reacted by withdrawing the blameless Cousin in favour of glove-sporting Frenchman Bernard Mendy as the Tigers shifted to a 4-4-2 formation, Marney moving out to the left, Mendy lining up on the right and King partnering Geovanni up front.
The remainder of the game was conducted mostly in Bolton’s half, as the away side unsurprisingly shut up shop, and it become Hull City versus Jussi Jaaskelainen. Dawson was the first to test the Finn, though his free-kick presented a very modest challenge. Geovanni tried next with what was City’s third great chance to score from a direct fee-kick – the Brazilian curled a shot over the wall, but the Bolton keeper dived to his right and made a great one-handed save, and sadly no follow-up was on hand to force an equaliser.
Dawson was replaced by Ricketts midway through the half, the City left-back looked a little uncomfortable as he trudged from the field. Moments later, City had their best chance of the game when a Marney free-kick on the right saw Geovanni unmarked in the area. His header was downward, powerful and unfortunately directed straight at Jaaskelainen, and although the rebound fell to Michael Turner, the visitors somehow blatted the ball to safety.
Back came City, with Folan having replaced the tiring Boateng as the game neared its conclusion – Geovanni against tested the keeper, he again repelled the shot. King tried next, and his shot took a slight deflection that drew a magnificent one-handed save from Jaaskelainen – Geovanni raced in after the rebound, but somehow the Bolton keeper managed to regain his bearings and fisted the ball to safety. And although four minutes of normal time remained, and four more were added by Mr Wiley, we knew it was not to be our day.
So, on the face of it, a poor defeat. Few teams will lose at home to Bolton this season, and few will finish below them in the table. City have now lost three games in a row, although we remain in the top six with twenty points, the headiest days are behind us and we must now prepare for the winter slog.
City did some things well, however. Chances were created, even if they were spurned by a combination of sloppy finishing and world-class goalkeeping. This was not a game that we deserved to lose, but a moment’s lack of care at a corner and an unusual lack of sharpness meant that we did. An another day, we may have drawn, or even won. We didn’t, and we move onto next Sunday’s visit by Manchester’s other club still in good heart, but with a slightly more realistic view of life in the Premier League. (AD)