Blues 1 Bolton Wanderers 2 .. Match Report

Last updated : 05 January 2005 By Richard Barker

A last-gasp Kevin Nolan strike earned Bolton all three points as Blues began life without Robbie Savage - or at least without him playing - in the worst possible way.

With Darren Carter sidelined with a virus, and Savage dropped due to his current situation, Steve Bruce was forced into two changes in the centre of midfield. The former Spurs duo of Stephen Clemence and Darren Anderton came in to deputise, whilst Olivier Tebily kept his place at left-back despite his horror show against Craig Bellamy at the weekend.

The Savage saga clearly cast a shadow over St Andrews, no matter how much people may have wished it wouldn't. Early on there were a few half-hearted songs aimed in his direction - though most people suspected he wouldn't be at the ground. They were wrong, however, as he took his seat in the old Directors Box in the Main Stand, and graced his employers with his presence for a grand total of approximately 35 first half minutes. There was just no real atmosphere in the ground. You got the feeling that everyone wanted to vent their anger at Savage, yet felt that they should get behind the team and ignore him, and the result was one of those 'not quite either' type scenarios. There was no great backlash from the fans, but there was no great support either.

Blues started ok, if not spectacularly. Clemence headed wide from an Anderton free-kick, resulting from the first of endless Bolton handballs. Then moments later, there was another 'not quite either' scenarios, but the kind that you see more often at a football match. Damien Johnson's low drive wasn't quite a shot, but wasn't quite a cross to Stan Lazaridis either.

Bolton gradually got into the game, and could have nicked two goals within the space of 5 minutes. Firstly, El-Hadji Diouf somehow failed to convert a low cross, before Maik Taylor was forced to save from Nolan when the Bolton midfielder was clean through. At the other end Clinton Morrison curled an effort wide, as Blues struggled to really take control against a team who had been in a woeful run of form.

After 17 minutes, Bolton finally took a chance. Jay Jay Okocha hit an acrobatic volley that Taylor parried, but Diouf was on hand to thump the rebound into the roof of the net. In truth, given the quality of the two chances Bolton had had earlier, Blues had been lucky to survive this long without conceding.

Blues couldn't really settle, and despite enjoying a fair amount of possession, didn't really look like a side with a Premiership football match on their minds. Jussi Jaaskelainen made a good save from a low Emile Heskey drive, before Tebily surprised everyone by cutting inside and unleashing a fierce 25 yard drive that flew just wide.

At half-time Bruce switched Johnson to the middle of the park, moving Anderton wide on the right. The second period started as the first half finished, with Blues enjoying much of the possession, without really creating clearcut chances. Mario Melchiot did head over from about 3 yards following a corner, but that was it for the early stages of the second half.

After 65 minutes though, Blues did finally breakthrough. Heskey nodded down an Anderton corner, and Morrison somehow managed to hook the ball against the crossbar from an acute angle. As the ball rebounded down from the bar, Matthew Upson was on hand to turn the ball home and equalise.

And that, Blues fans though, was that. They'd finally got their equaliser, and they'd now go on to steamroller this pretty average side in front of them who would surely now be drained of all confidence. Well, no such luck, I'm afraid.

Bolton began to frustrate Blues with some time-wasting antics to try and hold on to their draw. However, I think Blues and their fans got so frustrated, that Bolton sensed they could actually win it - this seems to be the only way they went from a team wasting every precious second they could, to a team who suddenly attacked from all over the park in the final 10 minutes.

This may also have been aided by Maik Taylor and Dwight Yorke. Heskey had dropped deep, possibly through fatigue and possibly to help out his team-mates. This meant that Yorke was more or less alone up front. He made no effort to win any ball, and this was obvious for all to see. However, everytime the ball got back to Taylor, despite witnessing what everyone else was witnessing - which was that Yorke was getting nowhere against the combined presence of Bruno N'Gotty, Rahdi Jaidi, Fernndo Hierro and Ivan Campo - kept hoofing the ball long to him, and thus surrendering possession back to Bolton.

Gary Speed had a shot blocked by Kenny Cunningham, before Nicky Hunt obviously thought that whatever Tebily could do, he could do better, by being the second full-back-who-seems-hopeless-in-attack to have a long-range drive fly wide. Bolton also won a succession of corners, thanks in the main to the hard work of Diouf. In a very Savage-like way, Diouf gets booed by fans all over the place who seem to get to the point where they actually forget why they're booing him. He was certainly jeered from the start here. However, what you do have to say on tonight's display, is that he's not a bad player either. Credit where credit's due, he was the key to Bolton's victory.

Anyway, as the game moved into it's final minute of stoppage time (I'll come to that in a second...) Okocha was faced with two defenders wide on the left. I hate to say 'I told you so', but I sat there screaming 'He'll cut inside and shoot with his right... don't let him cut inside... DON'T LET HIM C...' and by then he'd cut inside and shot with his right foot. Taylor could only parry the effort, and two players reacted to the rebound - both were wearing Bolton shirts. Nolan got there and knocked the ball into the unguarded net, and that was that.

As I said, I want to talk about stoppage time. Now, you may have noticed that I don't like to criticise referee's too often, and generally steer clear of doing so, as I appreciate they have a really, really difficult job to do, and I think that most of them do it pretty well. Here though, Uriah Rennie's calculations for stoppage time in the first half and second half respectively were similar to a calculation I'd make if I was having a pop at Quantum Physics... pretty hopeless. Now, it's not really sour grapes, as I'm not claiming that there should have been far less in total.

BUT, in the first half, there were endless silly stoppages. One - when Diouf was booked, the Bolton wall was marched back 10 yards, Morrison whinged, Anderton tried to take a free-kick - must have lasted at least 90 seconds. Another - when Heskey and N'Gotty were both booked and Heskey and Rennie argued for ages and Morrison whinged - must have lasted 2 minutes. I actually reckon that if you worked it out, there'd have been close to 8 minutes of stoppages in the first half. There were only 2 added on though.

In the second half, hardly anything stopped the game, but for Clemence getting cramp, and 3 minutes were added on. Anyway, that particular rant is over.

Robbie Savage influenced this result, but I'm not quite sure how yet. Was it that Blues missed Savage the player? Maybe. Certainly Clemence getting cramp and being replaced before the end looking absolutely shattered gave an indication of just how much work Savage does. Clemence tried to take on the role today, and in fairness gave it a good go, but clearly struggled later on. Also, at times, Blues needed someone to fire up the crowd, and Savage could (until yesterday) have done this. So, yes, Blues possibly did miss Savage the player.

However, I think Savage's influence on this game went further on this. I think that his selfish, childish, manipulative antics of the previous few months, culminating in the previous 24 hours had rocked a football club. I think everyone was shocked and surprised and hurt. Everyone knew that the guy courted publicity, and loved the attention. I don't think anyone realised how sick he could be though, in bringing the parents he so willingly parades on his TV show at their Wrexham home, into his desire for one last pay day. Not to mention everything else he's done.

I think the previous 24 hours left the team, management, board and supporters with something of a hangover, and minds weren't full on a very winnable game of football. Robbie Savage can no doubt be proud of himself.

Hopefully things will be resolved one way or another prior to a big FA Cup tie against Leeds United on saturday, because if minds aren't on that game either, Blues will get beat again. The team can't afford not to be focussed, as Leeds will bring about 5,000 fans who will be roaring every challenge their players make, and it'll be a much tougher test than Bolton were tonight - even that was a test that Blues, under a Savage cloud, were unable to pass.