Even while you’re lying in the gutter, cast your eyes upwards, yearn for the stars. Sound advice, if slightly touchy-feely American kitsch. What would be in those stars for the optimistic Hull City fan, if any such creature exists as the clocks go back in October 2018? The disappearance of the Allams from our club and the avoidance of relegation this season. That’s all. There’s no more to it. The stars will twinkle and the sun will shine if we reach next summer still a Championship club and under new ownership. That, small mercies, will do me.
Yesterday’s victory at whatever Bolton’s ground is called this season will do nothing to shake off the bad smell of the Allam family, but it is a helpful shove towards the coveted position of 21st in the table and ultimate safety. This was another forgettable game in a season stuffed as full of forgettable games as an avaricious trick or treater’s bag of swag, but it delivered a welcome three points, and so we will forget it with a little more relish than that with which we have mournfully dismissed the serial humdrum cuffings we’ve suffered since August.
With injuries blighting our pool of central defenders, Mr Adkins was forced to play four at the back and to select young Robbie McKenzie. So, with young Dan Batty protecting the back four and not quite so young Fraizer Campbell asked to put in the unenviable solo frontman shift, we lined up like this:
Lichaj Elphick McKenzie Kingsley
Bowen Henriksen Irvine Groscki
It’s a bright day, it’s a chilly day, it’s a sparsely filled stadium. Burnden Park was not a thing of beauty, but it was a bearpit of a football ground, hard by the historical heart of the town and the walk towards it, along the Manchester Road under inspection by grim-faced locals peering out from dingy boozers unchanged since cotton was king, was not to be undertaken with amber and black colours on show while offering gay entreaties to let the best team win, hurrah! No. The out-of-town shopping centre at which Bolton currently reside has more architectural grace than identikit new build stadiums of the dull unimaginative type we visit in Leicester, Swansea and Southampton, but the plain fact is that it is not where a football stadium should be located, which is within walking distance of the bulk of the club’s fans and within easy spillage of plenty of pubs. And Bolton Wanderers Football Club, a name etched deep and proud in the nation’s football historical consciousness, is lessened by its expulsion to these pastoral and plain surroundings.
Football, tell us about the football, Steve!
OK. It wasn’t very good. Sorry.
But before it became transparently obvious this was to be a doleful scrap between two low-rank sides, we scored a goal, the only goal, and won the game. Slick build-up too. Bowen and Henriksen are instrumental down the right, the ball is pulled back a little haphazardly across the face of the box, where Campbell, forced to work solo, does extremely well to dart into the box from deep, squirm free of the defenders and reach the loose but inviting ball first. His connection is not powerful but that seems to help, because goalkeeper Ben Alnwick misjudges the ball as it rolls along the ground towards him and he lets the daisycutter bobble straight through his legs and on in to the centre of the goal.
On 25 the Bolton player widely described by the astute judges near me in the stand as ‘that little Turkish bloke’ released ex-Tiger Clayton Donaldson with a deft through ball clipped with the outside of his left boot, but the shot was wastefully punted over Marshall’s crossbar. Erhun Oztumer is the fella’s name, it turns out, and we muttered about ‘that little Turkish bloke’ quite often during the first half, as the relatively few promising moments created by Bolton’s play commonly involved his skilful attentions. Oztumer is a Londoner of Turkish extraction, as revealed by my research fused with a brief channelling of Ted Lowe, and he looked better than most of the other footballers on the pitch throughout.
It’s not a good game, with incidents in the final third precious rarities. On 32 a swift break by City is almost halted as a stray but wilful plastic bag attempts to bring down the fleet-footed Jackson Irvine, but the Australian World Cup star (as I understand he likes to be called, and who wouldn’t) skips clear of the attentions of the planet’s ecological scourge and supplies Grosicki with an inviting opportunity. But Irvine’s missed the plastic bag and Grosicki misses the onion bag. Shot hoofed wildly over the bar.
The most striking aspect of the vista was how narrow the pitch is. Bolton have pulled the touchlines on both sides in a long way from the stands, leaving a wide expanse of grass between whitewash and the perimeter fence. Ha! Stoke used to do that to sharpen still further the danger of Rory Delap’s immense long throws, but Bolton’s motivation is purely defensive. They fear the searing pace and tricky wingman sorcery of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki!
It’s possible they haven’t seen Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki play this season.
Grosicki and Bowen swap wings after half an hour. I now appreciate that this is simply what they routinely do. It’s nothing to do with reaction to the state of the game. It is pre-ordered. It is Nigel Adkins and His Managerial Tactic. And for that we should be grateful. Humble too.
One added minute, half time, not very good, but we are winning. To the concourse, which is a great deal quieter than it has been for previous visits to Bolton. And no wonder. Looking up at the stars? There are two fat heads, belonging to Assam and Ehab, blocking the view.
The second half is modestly lively, but lacks any real hint of quality throughout. It ends with us winning the game. That’s pretty much the size of it, and all that you need to know.
On 55 a fine move down the left culminates in a Kingsley pass allowing Bowen to scythe deep into their area, picking out a cute cutback to Grosicki enjoying plenty of space near the penalty spot. Bowen watches aghast as the Pole makes true connection but directs his shot straight at Alnwick’s ample gut. A scuffed shot off his shin would have served better. Grosicki is enlivened, and bursts down the left, but his low cross across the face of the goal finds no takers. Then that little Turkish bloke, tricky fast feet, dinks his way through our defence, but places his left foot shot just wide of the far post.
These are moments of activity, but a lot of the second half is dedicated to harmless scrabbling and babbling across the midfield. Thoughts turn to life’s eternal verities, and in particular the large sign adorning the stand at the far end from us – ‘Carrs Pasties North Stand’. That is surely lacking not one but two apostrophes, but it is not so clear where they should be inserted. A conundrum for the ages, even if not quite as obscure as the claim emblazoned on the roof of the home end at Field Mill that ‘More people choose Sankey than for any other reason’.
Bowen comes off for Mazuch half way through the second half, and the Czech stopper hares on to the pitch and immediately stations himself on Clayton Donaldson’s shoulder, if as if Mr Adkins has informed him that Donaldson is tearing our defence apart and now requires firm and attentive man-marking. I have to confess, I hadn’t noticed Donaldson doing any such thing so I’m not sure that the switch was really needed. But hey, I’m no football manager, and, to be fair, Donaldson caused us no problems at all in the minutes that remained. Astute stuff by Mr Adkins! I am told he was seen this morning squeezing lemon juice on to his lawn in order to keep the pandas away and, to be fair, there are no pandas to be seen on the Adkinses’ lawn.
We are five at the back when Bolton have the ball, but more ambitious when we take possession, with Lichaj in particular asked to be flexible, shuttling between defensive duties at right back and a more expansive role marauding forward. I’m still a bit sore at Lichaj’s fragility in failing to stop Preston’s equaliser last week, but that’s near enough the only error he’s committed all season. USA!
It’s quite open, it’s quite fun, it’s quite low quality. But we are winning.
Grosicki off, Dicko on. Which seems right. Batty off, Stewart on. Which seems wrong. But Bolton simply do not possess the ammunition to upset us. On this evidence they look highly likely to finish below us, which in turn, given that I doubt we’re going to be finishing any higher than 20th or 21st, is highly likely to mean they will be relegated.
On 90 Dicko and Stewart combine well to create a chance for Irvine, but his shot is blocked. The board is showing an added five, but there are no alarms, and the clock ticks down to victory.
Over seven hours and 18 innings the Dodgers and the Red Sox played on Friday night through into Saturday morning in the longest game in the history of the World Series. I think I’d have been searching for sharp objects to jab into my eyeballs had this game between Bolton Wanderers and Hull City lasted any longer than it actually did. I like most American sports, but they fail to grasp the integrity of the honourable draw and the grimly gritty satisfaction of the dishonourable draw. An hour and a half’s football is quite enough, that’s what we got yesterday, and throw in a full three points, not just a solitary one, and we headed home content though the gathering twilight. Good performances by Batty, who is shaping up as a sensible and well-organised holding midfielder, McKenzie who, helped by the experienced Elphick alongside, was quietly effective, and Markus Henriksen who is never going to be mistaken for a top-level ball-spraying tough-tackling midfield commander but who is never going to shirk or hide.
Onwards and, who knows, upwards. The stars await.
Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)