A couple of hundred hardy souls shivered against the wind in the bleak concrete stands, huddled together for warmth in pathetic little scattered blobs of humanity. It was like a Premiership match at Blackburn.
Blues lined up with a very youthful team, with Carl Motteram making a very welcome return from major knee surgery. Alex Bruce (Steve’s son) lined up as a left-sided central defender alongside Sam Oji. Up front Oliver Allen (Clive’s son) lined up alongside Njazi Kuqi (Shefti’s brother). Despite this line-up, Blues had declined to play a game of Happy Families with Bolton before kick-off, Instead they had played Player’s Name Scrabble and Blues were handsomely beaten by a Bolton team which included high points scorers such as Martin Djetou, Jaroslaw Fojut, Ricardo Vazte and Fabrice Fernandes.
No Brucie Watch tonight – never saw him. In fact, no Bertschin watch either, the team being marshalled from the touchline by the sylph-like figure of Nigel Spink, standing in the pouring rain wearing shorts! They’re dead hard, them ‘keepers. It’s a pity Bertschin wasn’t there because, as regular readers will know, I’ve become an aficionado of his perceptive insights from the Technical Area. I have no doubt that tonight we’d have been treated to “Ref! It’s raining!”.
Both teams made a decent fist of trying to play football on a pitch that was becoming more dangerous by the minute as the rain drove down, great puddles formed, the ball stuck and players slid into each other with great crunches audible from the stand. Blues’ Nick Wright was making some searingly fast runs down the right wing, although the final ball was often a bit slack. For Bolton, Johann Smith on the left flank showed loads of pace but too many step-overs and tricks for my jaded old palette. Bolton also had a big strong centre forward called Bedi Buval who battled gamely against Bruce and Oji and came off at half time completely covered in mud, looking like something from a 1970s Match of the Day!
Blues had the best of the 45 minutes played, with David Howland twice going close, once with a header from a corner and shortly afterwards with a rasping 25-yarder which shaved the post with the goalie beaten. Bolton almost scored when Buval had an unmarked header which he plonked straight into Doyle’s arms in the Blues goal. Blues also strung together the best move of the game, when Bruce carried the ball out to halfway in the Bolton half, slid a pass inside the defender for Motteram to drive a low cross which Kuqi sidefooted just past the post. Bloton’s best moments were all coming from the pace and flair of Smith who was doing very well, considering he was playing on a pitch which was somewhat akin to a mangrove swamp.
Motty had a reasonable game. He’s adopted a Jon McCarthy haircut (the footballer, not the hostage) and tried hard to get things going down the left wing. he didn’t look like a bloke who’d spent nearly a year out and returned to play in a monsoon. Bolton had clearly worked hard on their dead ball situations and I liked their corner routine, where every single player waits outside the box and then come's storming in like the Light Brigade as the corner comes over. There are bodies flying everywhere – impossible to referee and most effective. I’d recommend a look at Bolton Reserves if only to witness this spectacle. Also, a special word is due to Bolton’s phsyio, a dead ringer for Sylvester Stallone. All entertaining stuff, exactly what you’d expect of Big Sam’s Lads.
Anyhow, late in the first half the ref could be heard joking with both bedraggled benches about his wanting to sit in the dugout whilst they got soaked instead. The Blues subs retreated to sit in the stand in order to keep out of the rain. Mat Sadler was covered in mud splashes, just from having warmed up. An abandonment was inevitable and was declared at half time. I went into the clubhouse for a wee, won a tenner on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? machine, caught the end of Eastenders, ran back to the car and went home.
That’s All Folks!
Blues: Colin Doyle, Chris Cottrill, Marcus Painter, Samuel Oji, Alex Bruce, David Howland, Nick Wright, Asa Hall, Njazi Kuqi, Oliver Allen, Carl Motteram. Subs: Andrew Bagnall, Mat Sadler, Sone Aluko, James Blake, Nathaniel Howell.
Bolton: Sam Ashton, Rhys Powell, Scott Jamieson, Martin Djetou, Mark Ellis, Jarostaw Fojut, Fabrice Fernandes, Dale Whitehead, Bedi Buval, Ricardo Vaz-Te, Johann Smith. Subs: Bradley Hill, Lainton, James Sinclair, Robert Sissons, Leslie Thompson
Match abandoned at half-time.