Following watching Blues play well (perhaps not getting the full fruits of what their labour deserved) on Saturday at Forest, I went into the Bolton game cautiously optimistic, the Whites have probably the best squad on paper in this league, but have not been at all convincing so far this season, whilst we were looking slowly but surely as if we were making progress.
Lee Clark started with the same XI that started at the City Ground, and in the early stages it was lively if not cutting edge. A Leroy Lita header on five minutes was deflected just wide by the foot of a Bolton defender, whilst David ‘Tom Daley’ N’Gog responded to constant boos and hisses every time the ball was in his possession by firing well wide from the corner of Blues’ eighteen-yard box. Nevertheless, you got the impression that Blues were playing the better style of football by passing it rather than Bolton, who seemed to want to hit Tom Daley and Kevin Davies as quickly as they could. This would soon be showed in pretty glorious fashion.
Blues were looking to be more threatening. Chris Burke worked himself well onto his left-foot, and his shot from outside the area was well held by the Bolton ‘Keeper Bogdan. Then, the breakthrough. Tom Daley running with the ball towards our box was disposed well with a great sliding challenge by David Murphy, who sprayed the ball into the feet of Leroy Lita. Lita, with his back to goal, spread the ball inside and it eventually found Wade Elliott. Elliott looked up, picked his pass and beautifully set Paul Caddis away down the right flank past the rather cumbersome Bolton left-back Alonso. Caddis sped away with the ball, looked up, and squared it to Lita who had started running from where he had originally had the ball, and he from two yards out couldn’t miss. A Barca-esque team goal, one reminiscent of the sort of goals we scored at times during Chris Hughton’s tenure, and a sparsely populated St.Andrews was delighted. Blues 1-0 Bolton after fifteen minutes, happy days.
The game meandered, but Blues were looking the better team. On ‘27 Elliott played another fantastic pass to set Burke through one-on-one with Bogdan, who saved from the Scotsman smartly with his feet. The only real downside to Blues’ first-half at this point was Hayden Mullins, who just did not seem to be up with play and was regularly giving the ball away. Bolton were still hitting and hoping, though admittedly Tom Daley’s mobility was giving Caldwell one or two pieces of food for thought. Another long ball punted up by the Bolton backline led to a foul by Caldwell on said man thirty-yards from the Blues goal, which the Blues skipper was booked for. Eagles stepped up, BANG, 1-1. Fantastic goal. A big blow as it came right on half-time. Bolton nearly scored again though, a ball played high into the box, Blues defenders comatose, and Tom Daley unmarked headed straight into Butland’s arms. The interval then gratefully arrived.
The first-half was on the whole fairly positive, our passing crisp, in particular the distribution of Elliott. And Lita was again looking a real threat up-front like he did at Forest. However, Mullins was again having another stinker, and Caldwell, whilst generally engaged when the ball was hit straight at him, was showing signs of toil when the ball was played in behind him and he was forced to chase back towards his own goal.
The second-half saw the welcome introduction of Fahey in place of the aforementioned Mullins. Pretty much straight after half-time, a ball was played into the box from the left-flank. Bogdan collected, but in that time Marlon King was taken down by the lump that used to play for the bellends of B6, Zat Knight. The referee awarded a penalty, whilst Owen Coyle was raging on the touchline it was noticeable that none of the Bolton players protested too much. Lita wanted to take the penalty, but King won the battle of wills, set the ball on the spot, and blasted the ball to Bogdan’s right-hand corner, 2-1 Blues.
Blues nearly followed that up with another. A long ball landed at the feet of that clown Knight. His pass back to Bogdan was under-hit and intercepted Lita, who proceeded to take it around Bogdan but too far wide to shoot first time. He turned back in on himself, but rather than attempt to play it across to King blasted it straight into the side netting, a disappointing end to some very good work. Paul Caddis then did very, very well down the right, skipping past Alonso’s challenge and firing a shot well saved by Bogdan, with the ball despairingly landing just behind the feet of Wade Elliott.
Jack Butland was called into action, standing up to Mark Davies’ attempt to flick the ball round him from a tight angle. It was this incident that led to the withdrawal of Caddis through injury, with a stretcher called but ultimately not used, with Curtis Davies brought off the bench to fill in at right-back. Bolton were starting to desperately press for a goal. Tom Daley and Lee being brought off for Benik Afobe and one-time very good Man City winger Martin Petrov being brought on. One time Blues target Afobe was soon sent through on goal, thwarted by a sprawling Butland, who was now becoming Blues’ key player.
But, as Bolton pushed further and further forward they were bound to leave gaps at the back. Substitute Nathan Redmond really stretched Bolton with a mazy run which took him past three players, and did a one-two with King, before a curling shot was kept out by an acrobatic Bogdan save tipping the ball over the bar. From the resulting corner being cleared, the ball was worked back into the box, evading an unmarked Curtis Davies who, if he had made any sort of contact, would’ve made it 3-1 and three points to Blues.
As full-time and three points were approaching, Blues were starting to sit deeper more and more, trying to hold out. A bizarre free kick was given against Blues when Lita, who won the ball in his own half of the pitch, was adjudged to be offside. That free kick was punted long, half-cleared by a Blues head and on the follow up Alonso sweetly struck a half-volley superbly saved by Butland. A moment later, Eagles got a half-sight of goal and his shot was very well held by England’s future number one. At the other end, Blues got the ball forward after another thwarted Bolton charge, King raced clear, poked it past Bogdan only for the ball to be scooped from the goal line by Bolton’s centre-half. Finally, the referee drew proceedings to a close. A mad end to a very entertaining game.
Blues, whilst not perfect, again showed signs in this game that they are making progress. Jack Butland and Leroy Lita are showing that they are welcome additions to last season’s team, whilst Wade Elliott, pretty much a spare part in the league since Lee Clark took over, really made a claim for more regular selection.
Jack Butland (8)-Really excelled with numerous saves when called into action.
Paul Caddis (7)-Got the assist for the goal and a constant attacking threat down the right-hand side before getting injured
Steven Caldwell (6)-Won a lot in the air against the pest that is Kevin Davies but struggled against the more athletic N’Gog and Afobe.
Pablo Ibanez (7)-Like Caldwell, did well vs. Kevin Davies and coped better with N’Gog.
David Murphy (6)-Tigerish in the tackle but not getting forward as much as he did last season. Did very well in being the start point for the first goal.
Chris Burke (6)-Showed flashes of inspiration but still not really near where he was at times last season.
Hayden Mullins (4)-Just not up to scratch. Taken off at half-time.
Jonathan Spector (5)-The game seemed to pass him by a tad, full of running though.
Wade Elliott *Star man* (8)-His pass pretty much made the first goal, and throughout he was creating real problems for Bolton with his flair and intelligence.
Leroy Lita (8)-A constant nuisance for the Bolton defence, his movement really wreaked havoc. Scored the first goal.
Marlon King (6)-Still not as sharp as he was last season but he was better than he was a few games ago. Put his penalty away emphatically.
Keith Fahey (6)-Kept the ball moving a lot better than Mullins. It will be good when he’s match fit and playing regularly.
Curtis Davies (5)-He really isn’t a right-back.
Nathan Redmond (7)-Really stretched Bolton with his pace, and his mazy run really deserved a goal.