Apparently we played really well for the first twenty minutes. I say ‘apparently’ because by the time I got to my seat, there were only twenty seven minutes of the first half left to play and everyone around me told me about the feast of football I had missed. I won’t bore you with the details of my journey across a rain strewed M62 , the frustrating hold-up to leave the motorway and the language I used when I found that my usual car park had closed. Let’s just say I wasn’t in the best of moods as I approached the stadium and realised I’d missed a goal; there was a great roar, followed by the announcement that the ‘scorer was … Sooooper Kevin Davies’.
I can only report on what I saw and though Owen Coyle thought we were terrific the final seventy two minutes didn’t deserve such an accolade. Indeed, in the second half, at times, you could delete the ‘fic’ from the manager’s description and substitute ‘ble’. Of course, my judgement might be clouded by the frustration caused by my delayed arrival but those around me who had been lauding the team gradually became their normal, critical selves.
I heard the team announced on the radio and wasn’t particularly impressed to hear that Afobe was playing and that Ricketts and Chung remained among the substitutes. Other than the on loan striker taking the place of Ngog, it was the same team as Saturday. A chap called El Hadji Diouf was the captain of Leeds for the night.
I was told that Chris Eagles had been running the right side of the Leeds defence ragged and he continued to do so after I arrived. The first bit of excitement I saw was when Afobe was put clear by a delicate chip over the visitor’s defence, but could only poke his shot just wide of the post. Leeds, however, were by now very much in the game. After a couple of corners, a shot from Byram almost crept in at the far post, while, a few minutes later, Becchio almost took advantage of a spot of Bogdan dithering. Our main attacking thrust continued to be down the left and towards the end of the half two Leeds defenders were booked for tackles on Eagles.
We didn’t, however, produce anything to trouble Kenny in the Leeds goal and it was the Yorkshire team that scored just before the interval. That man Diouf took a free kick, swinging in towards the far post, Byram got a touch, and the scores were level. It was a first class delivery by the former Reebok favourite and reminded me of similar free kicks by Djorkaeff in happier days. Maybe Bogdan should have done better but such deliveries are difficult to defend.
I spent half time getting my breath back and wondering why the loanee Afobe took preference over our own Sordell. Neither has impressed this season but they are both young and one would hope that they would benefit from time on the pitch so why not give the opportunity to our own player.
I might have equally spent my time wondering what Owen Coyle says to his players at half time, for lately we have tended to surrender goals soon after the restart. In this game, it happened again. After three minutes, an innocuous looking challenge by Warnock on Byram was judged to be illegal and Leeds scored from the resulting penalty. I wrote in my report on the last game about Coyle’s new found tendency to bleat about the officials; in this case I have some sympathy as the challenge looked shoulder to shoulder. I haven’t seen a replay, but, from where I sit it was a ridiculous decision. Still that’s four in four games. Somebody up there doesn’t like you Owen.
Whatever heights we might have reached earlier, we were now back to playing the sort of rubbish to which we are becoming accustomed. Both sides seemed to have innumerable free kicks and there was no flow to the game. Kenny was at last called into action to save a Mills header following one such free kick, a few minutes later the keeper failed to hold a Mark Davies shot but Afobe couldn’t reach the rebound, and Zat Knight headed over when he should have scored. But these were isolated moments in a generally raggy display.
Then came what I expected to be the decisive moment – the manager took off Spearing, who had been one of our better players, and brought on Petrov. I feared the worst and anyone familiar with these scribblings will understand why. The change was made even more inexplicable when Perov took up a position on the right. In this case, to be fair, the change worked, but only after Leeds had swept repeatedly through midfield and put us under considerable pressure. Mills didn’t help the cause when he passed straight to Diouf, twenty yards from goal; fortunately the Leeds man’s shot was deflected.
With just over fifteen minutes to go Afobe was replaced by Sordell. The youngster didn’t seem to contribute particularly but his introduction sparked off the Wanderers best spell of the second period. For the first time the Leeds goal was under continuous pressure from a series of corners and countless balls lifted into the box. Then, at last, the equaliser came. Petrov took a good corner and Kevin Davies rose above everyone and sent a firm header into the net. It was no more than we deserved for Leeds had been no better than us.
Bolton’s tails were up now and we continued to pepper the visitor’s goal. It wasn’t sophisticated but surely with all these crosses we would get a break. Instead, in added time, the game almost went the other way. Diouf received the ball just outside the area. I was directly behind him and I could see the space in the top corner as he looked up before hitting the ball with the side of his foot to curl it into that space. I had time to imagine the headline but, unbelievably, instead of settling in the goal, the ball shaved the bar.
That was the final action. In many ways it had been an entertaining game between two fairly ordinary Championship sides. Maybe if I’d seen it all I would have been kinder to the Wanderers and the team certainly deserved credit for fighting back after what looked like a cruel refereeing error. Eagles and Spearing are the season’s successes so far and, once again, they stood out but it was the old stager that took the honours. I’m not Kevin Davies’s biggest fan but I recognise his merits and they were on display in this game. If we had had a natural goal scorer alongside him we would have won. As for any other comments, I would merely be repeating myself. We still don’t look like a promotion winning side and under the present regime I can’t see this changing.
Happily, I had an incident free journey home.