Blues v Bolton - The Last Time

Last updated : 25 September 2009 By Brian Cartlidge
Blues 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
by Richard Barker
15th September 2007

After the Middlesbrough debacle, Blues fans would have been forgiven for thinking that things couldn't get any worse.

Thankfully, they didn't, as Blues bounced back with a decent enough display to take all three points off a Bolton side struggling to cope without Sam Allardyce.

Blues weren't spectacular, but they were comfortably good enough against an admittedly poor Bolton side. My worry before the game was that as full of journeymen and mediocre-at-best players as Bolton are, they still have Nicolas Anelka and El Hadji Diouf who are two of the best forwards in the country on their day. Thankfully, Blues caught them on a day when Anelka and Diouf were sulking and blaming everyone else, and so Bolton weren't much competition.

Steve Bruce opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Johan Djourou dropping back into the heart of the defence alongside Liam Ridgewell, and Franck Queudrue returning at left-back. In midfield, Mehdi Nafti returned alongside Fabrice Muamba, with Seb Larsson back on the right, and Olivier Kapo playing just behind Cameron Jerome up front.

Bolton had one or two spells in the game, notably some pressure at the end, and Maik Taylor and Stephen Kelly were both forced to make important interventions to ensure Blues kept a first clean sheet of the season (which is a relief as well), but otherwise Blues dominated this game. They were fairly comfortable in possession, created a number of good opportunities and, at times, played some neat football.

I suspect that the idea of Kapo and Jerome up front was that Kapo could pick the ball up in the gap in between Bolton's defence and midfield, whilst Jerome could play on the shoulder's of the defence and look to get in behind with his pace, looking for through balls from Kapo. It didn't really work like that (Kapo was ok in the first half, and scored, but quite poor second half), but midfield were able to boss the game sufficiently - Nafti and Larsson in particular were excellent - to ensure that Blues were on top.

One player who I feel deserves a special mention is Queudrue. At Chelsea on the opening day, he was horribly, horribly exposed, and I had hoped that it was simply because he wasn't fit and that it had been an error to pick him. Whilst he still looked "chunky" against Bolton, he was far, far better (and seemed to be fitter). I do think that he's the sort of full back who will look good in games such as this, where Blues dominate. He's very good on the ball, and some of his passing is superb - his free-kick to set Larsson free for Kapo's goal was sublime, striking a ball low through a gap to find a teammate like that took some skill. When Blues have possession and are on top, he'll look good, because he's a footballer.

Defensively, I still have some misgivings. I think he's actually a good defender, in some respects - almost in a centre half kind of way. He's strong and good in the air (his one header near the end when he remained focussed as thre Bolton forwards charged at him was excellent), and is sensible with his defending. My worry would be when a winger gets one-on-one with him, as Shaun Wright-Phillips did, as I think he'll get torn apart again - especially with the once again poor Gary McSheffrey offering little assistance in front of him. Queudrue was very good against Bolton, but he'll come up against Jermaine Pennant and Cristiano Ronaldo in his next two league games for Blues. Those will be tests for him, and test that I worry he'll fail with. One hope, however, could be playing someone who defends (and looks like he's willing to defend) and gets stuck in and doesn't back out of challenges as McSheffrey did for most of Saturday.

With it only being 1-0 towards the end and Blues hanging on a little bit (although Taylor never had to make a save late on), it would be easy to level the criticism that Blues never looked to turn 1-0 into 2-0 when on top, and that left them open to an equaliser. Let's face it, that's normally the way Blues do it. However, that'd be unfair in this game, I think. Blues were unlucky that they never made it at least 2-0 - Larsson hit the very underside of the bar with a fine free-kick, Djourou had one cleared off the line, McSheffrey stood on the ball when played through by Kapo. You can blame Blues when they don't try and get a crucial second, but you can't really blame them when they do try, but just get very unlucky, which was the case here. Without getting the second goal, there was always going to be a nervy final 10 minutes, which Blues managed to get through.

Blues remained sloppy and naïve at times, but not as much. There's plenty to work on still, and they will need to work on things as they have a tough next four or five games coming up in the league now - especially the next too. Generally though, this was a positive. Players who are not seens as "stars" like Kelly, Nafti and Larsson all excelled (apart from a couple of times Diouf showed Kelly up), and that can only be a positive. Had Kapo been on top form, and had Blues got a bit luckier, you could have been looking at 3-0 here, and you couldn't have argued with that. As it was, it was only 1-0, but a crucial 1-0 all the same.

Blues: Taylor, Djourou, Kelly, Ridgewell, Queudrue, Larsson, Nafti, Muamba (Oubina 87), Kapo, Jerome (O'Connor 90), McSheffrey (Schmitz 90).

Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Samuel (Gardner 73), Meite, Hunt, O'Brien, A (Cid 77), McCann, Alonso (Braaten 54), Speed, Nolan, Diouf, Anelka.

Referee: Phil Dowd

Attendance: 28,124