It seems appropriate to continue the Benjamin Button theme from my last report by beginning this one by naming my Man of the Match, something I normally leave to the backend.
Mark Davies was the only contender. It’s true that he was only on the field for twenty four minutes but if ever a game illustrated the importance of little Sparky to Dougie Freedman’s Bolton Wanderers, this was it. While he was involved, we played with the same fluid panache that we displayed against Hull. After his injury all the stylish verve drifted away and we struggled to either maintain or increase our lead against the bottom club in the league.
Of course, Davies wasn’t involved in everything in the first quarter but, as I wrote in the Hull report, he is the catalyst. Fortunately, our defending has improved and Peterborough’s finishing was woeful, but it was a close run thing.
The manager produced a shock before the game by, perhaps for the first time as Bolton’s boss, naming an unchanged team. Sordell was lucky to get another chance and I hoped that he might justify his manager’s faith. There was a change on the bench, where an unwell Eagles was replaced by Stuart Holden.
In the first few minutes, it wasn’t perhaps Benjamin Button so much as Groundhog Day, for within five minutes we took the lead in increasingly familiar style We were on the attack from the kick off and soon won a corner. Spearing’s delivery was not one of his better ones but the ball went behind off a Peterborough player and gave him another chance. This time his cross was perfect; Craig Dawson rose above the mass to head it home and score his third goal in two games.
We continued to press and Chung had three shots in quick succession. We were all over them, in total control, and I’m sure no one on the ground thought that Dawson’s goal would be our only score. Amongst the general excellence, one move in particular stood out. Knight did well to win the ball close to our goal. He fed Pratley who in turn passed to N’Gog. From there the action moved to Davies who teed up Chung but his shot was well saved. Defence was turned to attack in a twinkling and if Chung had kept his shot on the floor, it would have been a sensational goal.
It was all going so well when Mark Davies went to ground with nobody near him. After considerable attention he continued, but after a another minute he was forced to hobble off. He deserved and received a great ovation but it was drowned by that afforded to his replacement, as Stuart Holden made his first entry to a league match for almost two years.
Pratley moved inside with the newcomer taking the wide role. It didn’t work. Pratley has earned his place in the team with his recent displays but he does not possess the creative ability of the man he replaced. We continued to press but it was an orchestra without a conductor. Passes went astray, moves broke down, and our flowing football became pedestrian. Corners became our best hope but Peterborough had recognised the danger and they deployed a man to block Dawson’s run into the box. They even began to make inroads into our own box and Bogdan had to be quick off the mark and hoof the ball into the stand on one occasion. It was very much after the Lord Mayor’s Show.
In the second half we went from bad to worse. Holden moved inside and Pratley returned to the wide position, which initially effected an improvement, but it didn’t last. We generally managed to keep Peterborough at bay and when they did get through they failed to hit the target. I don’t remember Bogdan making a save but then the visitor’s goalkeeper wasn’t overworked either. Given the importance of the result, I prefer to move on and not to dwell on the negative.
It has been well publicised that the victory was the first time we had won two games in succession for ages. It also meant we have taken eleven points out of the last five games and raised us to a dizzy tenth in the Championship table. In addition, Holden played for sixty odd minutes and, while he looked a long way from the player he was before Johnny Evan’s ‘mistimed’ tackle, there was the odd flash of what we have been missing. Also pleasing, was the growing understanding between Alonso and Chung on the left flank. They are both comfortable on the ball and, in the last two games, they have combined well. To an extent, and more prosaically, this is reflected on the other wing by Pratley and Ricketts. Add to this, Dawson’s positive impact on the defence and Spearing’s excellence in front of the back line, and it seems that some of the pieces of Dougie’s jigsaw are slotting into place.
However, in addition to the large hole left by Mark Davies, the big worry is our non-striking strikers. All four were on display in this game. In total they managed two attempts on goal between them, both from N’Gog, neither of them on target. In addition, Craig Davies had a fierce left footed effort charged down. Sordell and Kevin Davies vied for the title of most ineffective player. The newcomer from Barnsley looks the pick of the litter; he has pace, he can whack the ball hard, and he works hard. In the last two games, he has joined the battle when we were on the defensive. Hopefully, if he has someone to feed him the bullets, he will know what to do with them. Craig Dawson’s goals should be a bonus rather than vital.
Next up is a visit to Davies’s former club, which is another ‘home’ game for me, followed by two more matches at the Reebok. Nine points from that lot will put a very different slant on our season; two or three will return us to the nether regions. The results from the scan on Mark Davies’s knee will have a significant bearing on which of these is the case. We can only hope that the little fellow is soon back to pull the strings.