|Bolton Wanderers||(2) 2 – 1 (0)||Blackburn Rovers|
|Wheater 29, 35||Nzonzi 56|
|Referee: A. Marriner||Attendance: 26,901|
If a week is a long time in politics, four days seems to be an eternity for followers of the Rovers. Just four days ago the fans left Ewood Park buoyed by a resounding victory over Sunderland that lifted the club six points clear of the relegation zone. Since then, Liverpool have done their best to ensure that Sky have another last-day thriller to cover with regard to relegation, while the Rovers have again proved good neighbours and presented the Reebok outfit with another three points. The loss of six points to the Trotters may very well be the difference between survival and relegation. If it’s the latter fate that awaits us, we can have nobody to blame but ourselves. Over the course of two games a very mediocre Bolton side have proved that they are superior to the Rovers and have been rewarded with maximum points.
Today was always going to be an emotional affair and the pre-match tributes to Fabrice Muamba clearly galvanised the fans and players of Bolton. The Ewood faithful rightly played their part in the tributes to Muamba, but sadly once the game got underway, it became clear that the Rovers were clearly unsettled by the electric atmosphere that reverberated around the stadium.
Steve Kean resisted the urge to recall Bradley Orr and went with the line-up that had started the last two matches. However, whilst the individuals may have been the same, the tactics seemed decidedly different. Instead of rampaging runs down the wings by the Olsson twins, or Junior Hoilett running at the heart of the defence and playing off Yakubu, we were reduced to aimless long balls which were often over-hit and directed at nobody in particular. Watching Paul Robinson hoof the ball to the other end of the field for it to roll harmlessly out of play for a goal-kick did little to inspire the belief that the Rovers actually had a serious game plan for this fixture. Indeed, one could easily have believed that it had been the Rovers who had been seriously disrupted in their preparations for this match, such was the lack of any semblance of a tactical plan.
The first forty-five minutes provided a depressingly familiar tale with the Rovers looking decidedly uncomfortable when defending the flanks. Martin Petrov gave Jason Lowe a very difficult afternoon and the former Manchester City man was unfortunate not to score on more than one occasion when he cut in and shot across the face of the goal. However, his crosses, and there was a steady stream of them throughout the game, caused consternation among the ranks of the visiting defenders.
The Rovers were a tad unfortunate not to be given a penalty when Junior Hoilett went down in the area after falling over the leg of Gretar Steinsson on 24 minutes. It was the type of challenge which has resulted in penalties before, but on this occasion, perhaps swayed by the emotion of the day, Mr Marriner opted to give the Bolton man the benefit of the doubt.
On 29 minutes Bolton took the lead after the Rovers defence, clearly in the same benevolent mood as Mr Marriner, opted not to mark Wheater but to allow him to nod home Petrov’s left-wing cross unchallenged. The goal was the signal for the home fans to sing out Fabrice Muamba’s name all around the stadium, but on this occasion the Ewood faithful remained silent, perhaps stunned by the inept defending.
The Rovers tried to get back into the game, but Yakubu was unable to reach Martin Olsson’s inviting cross which curled across the Bolton goalmouth.
Six minutes after taking the lead Bolton struck again. Ryo Miyaichi’s corner kick found the head of Wheater, who was again unmarked, and the Bolton centre-half duly found the back of the net with a powerful header whilst the Rovers players merely looked at one another in bewilderment. It was a bewilderment shared by the large travelling contingent of Blackburn supporters, who had the misfortune to witness this shambolic performance.
If the players were looking to the manager for a lead they were sorely disappointed. As impassive as ever, Steve Kean merely stood on the touchline looking every bit as bemused as the rest of us.
Hopes that the second half would bring a different approach and perhaps a change in personnel proved unfounded as the Rovers continued in the same manner as they had done during the first forty-five minutes. Long balls which occasionally found Yakubu, but more often didn’t, were the order of the day. Hoilett was man-marked throughout, which seriously diminished his threat — clearly this page is missing from Mr Kean’s copy of the coaching manual.
On 56 minutes the Rovers hauled themselves back into the game thanks to the tried and trusted long throw of Morten Gamst Pedersen. He hurled the ball towards the near post and Steven Nzonzi rose to deftly glance the ball into the far side of the net with Adam Bogdan helpless to prevent it. Within minutes Bolton might well have stretched their lead, but fortunately Mark Davies headed wide.
With Yakubu ineffective and Hoilett marked out of the game, the Rovers lacked any penetration as an attacking force. On 68 minutes Kean hauled off the hugely disappointing Mauro Formica and sent on David Dunn. However, in truth, it did little to change the course of the match. With Orr, David Goodwillie and Anthony Modeste available, not to mention the bearded Simon Vukcevic, it was not as if the manager was short of options: admittedly none of them particularly enticing options, but they were options. However, ideas for changing the tactical set-up were clearly in short supply as the Rovers continued with the same aimless long ball. Under a previous manager the long-ball game meant getting people in and around the target area to pick up the second ball. Under Kean it was left to Yakubu to make the best of it on his own — that is, on the all too rare occasion that the balls were fired at him with any degree of accuracy.
What made the approach all the more disappointing was the fact that Bogdan looked anything but secure when put under pressure at crosses. However, all too often he was allowed to come and claim the ball without a Rovers player getting anywhere near him.
As the minutes ticked by, the Rovers’ approach became even more frenetic as they went in search of a second goal. However, apart from a near-post effort from Yakubu, following a rare Hoilett cross, the Rovers failed to put the Bolton goal under any serious pressure. The home side seemed to be physically wilting in the closing stages, but the Rovers simply lacked the ability to break them down.
The final whistle was greeted with an outpouring of relief by the home crowd and players alike, whilst some Rovers fans became embroiled in an unsavoury exchange of words with Pedersen. Admittedly, it was not one of the Norwegian international’s better performances, but he was hardly alone in being out of sorts.
Paul Robinson had little to do but pick the ball out of the net on two occasions, but his distribution was, at times, woeful. I lost count of the number of times he over-hit the ball so that it either ran harmlessly out of play or went straight to a Bolton defender.
The back four endured a very difficult afternoon and looked anything but convincing. Jason Lowe is not the first full-back to find Petrov a handful and in fairness he got little support from Formica. However, Petrov proved to be a danger man throughout and the Rovers simply failed to get to grips with him in the same way that Bolton managed to nullify Hoilett.
Grant Hanley and Scott Dann were not at their best and Dann, in particular, had a very poor game. He failed to pick up Wheater on set-pieces and his passing was exceptionally poor. Martin Olsson was probably the pick of the defenders, but he was unable to support the attack as he normally does.
It was in midfield that the Rovers looked quite threadbare. Steven Nzonzi didn’t enjoy one of his better afternoons, while Morten Gamst Pedersen struggled with the physical nature of the midfield battle. Both players were guilty of careless passing and neither was able to get forward to support the attack in any meaningful way.
On the flanks both Marcus Olsson and Mauro Formica struggled to make an impact. Olsson’s pace was occasionally put to good use, but there was no end product. Formica had another embarrassingly indifferent afternoon and one really does begin to wonder if this lad is cut out for the rigours of Premier League football.
Junior Hoilett was simply marked out of the game, while Yakubu had one of those frustrating afternoons where he was unable to get into the game. In fairness, the lack of quality with regard to the service he was given goes some way to explain why the game passed him by.
For the past two games the manager rightly received praise for his tactics and line-up. However, today, when the initial tactical plan had clearly failed, he was unable to come up with an alternative. Quite why we adopted the long-ball game and approached it in the manner we did is beyond my understanding. Hoilett and the Olsson twins buzzing around Bolton’s somewhat ponderous centre-backs would surely have been a better option than trying to use the Yak as a battering ram. Even that might have worked if he had been given better service and support. However, once again, the manager’s ability to think on his feet and make the changes that might alter the course of a game must be questioned.
With eight games left, it is beginning to look as though eight points will be the very least that is required to survive. The run-in is quite daunting and at the moment it would appear as if wins against Norwich City and Wigan Athletic will be vital if we are to remain in the Premier League. Four days after the elation of the win over Sunderland, the Rovers are once again back in the thick of the relegation battle. With United next on the agenda, one suspects that things are going to get an awful lot worse before they get better — if indeed they do get better.
Adam Bogdan; Gretar Steinsson, David Wheater, Tim Ream, Sam Ricketts; Mark Davies, Nigel Reo-Coker, Darren Pratley; Miyaichi Ryo, David Ngog (Ivan Klasnic 78), Martin Petrov
Subs not used: Jussi Jaaskelainen (gk), Marcos Alonso, Zat Knight, Chris Eagles, Kevin Davies, Marvin Sordell
Manager: Owen Coyle
Paul Robinson; Jason Lowe, Scott Dann, Grant Hanley, Martin Olsson; Mauro Formica (David Dunn 65), Steven Nzonzi, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Marcus Olsson; David “Junior” Hoilett; Yakubu
Subs not used: Mark Bunn (gk), Bradley Orr, Radosav Petrovic, Simon Vukcevic, David Goodwillie, Anthony Modeste
Manager: Steve Kean
Bolton Wanderers – None
Blackburn Rovers – Jason Lowe, Marcus Olsson
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