Even though it doesn’t need to be said – WOW! What a valuable three points! A very compelling and tense game up the road at Ewood Park, and most importantly some crucial points in the bag to bring home.
The entire game was a nervous affair and the news that OC had tinkered with the starting line-up by dropping Kevin Davies for Ngog and retaining the services of Marcos Alonso at left-back added some extra intrigue into the mix. Arguably, demoting both Davies and Robinson to the bench is not as controversial as the mainstream media would make out. Kev’s form has been seriously below par this season and given his advancing years this could well signal the end of his regular place in the first XI.
Similarly, Paul Robinson’s all or nothing approach, mixed with some dodgy positional play and tired legs, has seen him fall well out of favour.
The first half belonged entirely to the Wanderers. Bolton settled immediately and it was visible that they were keen to work the ball across the floor and get into the rhythm of their training ground patterns. Mark Davies notably linking up well with Ivan Klasnic on several occasions – with his work being underpinned by an industrious and indomitable performance from Nigel Reo-Coker.
In truth both goals came with a significant amount of good fortune, but in the same breath were forged from direct running and committed pressure from the midfield in support of the attack. Blackburn’s only first half offerings were aimless punts downfield and hopeful long throws aimed at Samba. The backline were well organised and on the whole dealt very well with the Rovers bombardment. Zat Knight putting in the kind of aerial performance we saw from him 12 months ago and Marcos Alonso demonstrated both solid defensive ability and some confident attacking play too.
The second half saw a more aggressive attacking display from Blackburn and a change of tactics to attempt to create more chances on the flanks and to bring Yakubu into the game. Their substitutions on 64 minutes brought about a significant reshuffle with Goodwillie replacing the lacklustre Formica, and Rochina adding some extra pace to midfield by replacing Vukcevic. Most noticeably this released Hoilet into his more favoured position on the wing, and his pace and skill always makes him a danger.
The changes paid dividends for Steve Kean’s men as Cahill was caught coming in too tight to Yakubu, the big Nigerian using the pace of the ball to turn his man and fire a highly composed chip over Jaaskelainen from 6 yards. The Bolton box resembled a pinball machine at times and from as early as the 70th minute the game felt like the last minute of a cup final. Stoic defending from the entire team and some good fortune saw Bolton ride the waves of Blackburn’s advances, each punctuated with a Bolton breakaway attack to try and kill the game. The final score could have easily altered in the final minutes of the match – Pratley coming close with a curling shot to the right hand corner that drifted just wide, and the towering presence of Christopher Samba nodding a powerful header the wrong side of the post with the last attack.
Looking back on the game from the Bolton point of view, the new team selection will give Owen Coyle something to think about for the next round of games. Ngog certainly offers something very different to Davies and has the look of a player that would grow with more starts under his belt and with a little more confidence.
Marcos Alonso looks like an absolute must start over Paul Robinson. He appears to have a stronger understanding with Martin Petrov, and looks as though he is starting to acclimatise to the speed and physical side to English football. Let’s not even mention Robinson’s insane challenge in the box that, after seeing the replay, looked a good shout for a penalty.
Unfortunately both Alonso and Ngog were both injured in the game with the former looking more significant than the latter.
The central(ish) midfield trio of Mark Davies, Muamba and Reo-Coker were much more comfortable than against Fulham, with Reo-Coker putting in an huge performance. Petrov was also lively and got through a decent amount of work.
All of the above being said this is only a tiny part of the challenge ahead of us, and the next two games are massive. To stand any chance of getting out of trouble we need to come away with a minimum of 4 points out of a possible 6. The top 6 teams start to come back into the fixture list after that point and momentum going into those games is crucial.