For the first time since late summer Bolton find themselves out of the bottom three thanks to a quite magnificent performance against one of the Premier League’s so-called elite. Back in August the Wanderers went to Anfield and put up the white flag from the off in a woeful performance that was typical of their efforts in much of the first part of the season. The contrast with Saturday evening couldn’t be greater as the team approached the game with quality, ambition and a real desire to win.
Having looked at January’s fixtures with a great deal of dread it now looks like this may be the month that the Wanderers actually show their ability to haul themselves from the mess that they found themselves in after a horrendous first half of the season. Having won well at Everton and played reasonably well at Old Trafford, Bolton set at Liverpool from the off and in so doing managed to achieve a fully deserved two goal lead by the midway point of the first half.
The key point of the game for me, however, came when Liverpool managed to haul their way back into the match through Bellamy. It is safe to say that at that point the majority of fans feared the worst as the team have shown on numerous occasions that any goal conceded usually leads to a collapse of disastrous proportions.
Not this time, however, as they emerged after half-time with their confidence and desire intact and continued their relentless pummelling of a very average Liverpool team with the intent of re-establishing their two goal lead as soon as possible. When the third goal was scored it came from an unlikely source as Steinsson volleyed brilliantly into the bottom corner. After that the Wanderers saw out the match in relative comfort as Liverpool were restricted to speculative long-range efforts. As a consequence Wanderers fans were able to leave the Reebok in high spirits for only the second time this season.
It is now apparent that the 4-5-1 formation employed in recent games is the one for Mr Coyle to stick with for the remaining games. This set-up gets the most out of the players that can have a real say in deciding our fate this season – Mark Davies and David N’Gog. Davies is allowed to play with the freedom to maximise his undoubted ability with the knowledge that Reo-Coker and Muamba are providing ample protection for the back four behind him.
It is now imperative that the Wanderers injury jinx doesn’t strike our number 16 as he looks key to our ability to attack teams with real purpose. N’Gog has struggled since arriving in the summer with the responsibility of replacing the goals lost from Mr Sturridge and Mr Elmander as he has been in and out of a desperately struggling team. It appears, however, that at last his quality can be maximised as he looks a real threat in the lone forward role. He has the touch to control the ball and bring other’s into play as seen by his role in both first-half goals on Saturday and as he showed at Goodison Park he has the ability to put away chances when they come his way.
The recent upturn in performances does leave question marks over a number of previously established squad members. In goal Adam Bogdam looks the real prospect Owen always said he was and the way he comes for corners and crosses is a real contrast to the decidedly flat-footed efforts of Jussi in recent months. As N’Gog looks increasingly comfortable in the team and with the possible arrival of Sebastien Le Toux to back him up, it is hard to see Klasnic and Super Kev getting much game time in the next few months. Indeed Ivan’s name was conspicuous by its absence from the list of substitutes. What the future holds for these three at the Reebok beyond this season is now very much clouded in doubt.
By the next time we play a league game the transfer window will have slammed shut and we will be left with a squad of players to deal with the pressures of the run-in. It must be hoped that the Cahill money gathered last week will be spent as promised and the new arrivals coupled with the hopeful return of a certain South Korean in the not too distant future will be enough to see Bolton cling to their much-cherished Premier League status. At any rate this looks much more likely than it did a few weeks ago and that can only be a good thing.