It’s games like this that really test your patience and stretch your nerves to twanging point, which is probably why, despite not losing, numerous arguments broke out in the away section, several of which escalated to fisticuffs. After falling behind to a team that’s only really existed for a couple of weeks, and had a solitary league goal to its credit, it needed an injury-time penalty - thankfully smacked rather than tickled – by McGeady to rescue a point.
With in excess of 4,000 making the journey from Wearside and various other points of the compass, passions were always going to run high. Stopping off at Chorley, a town pervaded by the delicious aroma of pies and sundry other meat products (which is bottled and called “Lancashire”), there were a fair number of Woking fans - also in red and white – there to see their side play Chorley – black and white – and plenty of opportunity to sit in the sun and put the team to rights. The landlord of the Malt & Hops had previously run the Aclet in Bishop, which went some way to explain the music acts advertised – ones we see regularly in South West Durham. As there’s a regular train from outside the pub to the Macron, two minutes from the Franking Sense (honest) away end, we let the bus trundle off at half one and had another hour’s relaxation. Memories of that game early in Sgt Wilko's tenure came flooding back as we approached the ground, remembering the lorry dispensing free Monster Munch that was boarded by a horde of Viking Mackems (or Mackem Vikings),and our Gaz, who nicked the lot to feed the four thousand. We came home with three boxes in the boot of Pos's car. Happy days.
The home fans, greatly reduced in numbers since our last visit thanks to the financial nonsense that threatened their club’s very existence, were spread along the two sides and scattered across the far end, and it looked like we made up about a third of the crowd of around 12,000. We kicked off in our natty blue away kit, towards the far end, and lining up:
O’Nien Flanagan Willis Hume
Gooch Maguire McGeady
We could see who was supposed to be where, and doing what, but between the back four and Grigg the shape never really settled. I can sort of understand why Leadbitter got back into the side, but not why Flanagan replaced Ozturk, or where McNulty was. Injured, I suppose. Fair enough, Leadbitter was the fulcrum and Dobson the movement, with Gooch and McGeady out wide, but no pattern of distribution emerged, and it didn’t take long for opinions to be expressed with excessive use of profanities. I’m all for telling it like it is, but some folks had been calling our players worse than Altidore since kick-off, and the negativity that pervaded the away end between the usual raucous singing must be noticeable on the pitch. With Will Buckley and Liam Bridcutt in the home side, and Daryl Murphy on the bench – all recent recruits to the Bolton cause – there were plenty options for “former player syndrome” to sink us.
Having said that, Dobson had the game’s first chance, getting on to Hume’s ball from deep, but knocked it too far with his first touch, allowing the keeper to get in the way of the eventual shot. For the first fifteen or twenty we had the bulk of the possession, but the failure to create meaningful chances, or indeed force Bolton to concede for the 24th time this season was irritating the fans who’d, quite rightly, turned up expecting us to be at least peppering the home goal. This lack of penetration seemed to frustrate the players as well, and they backed off a bit, allowing the Trotters (no, not Delboy and Rodney) to start building things of their own. They might not have the supposed quality that we have, but they had a shape, they’d been told what to do, and the stuck to their task, almost being rewarded after around 20 minutes when a curler from the aptly-named Politic bounced back off the post with Big Jon looking on.
If that was close, we should have gone closer five minutes later when Maguire beat his man and put in a cross that should have had a better end result, but Grigg headed tamely wide. Oh dear, if ever a bloke looked like he was going through the motions and hoping something would happen rather than grab the game by the scruff of the neck and make something happen….maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Maybe I’m not. Surely Wyke would have buried a chance like that. Maguire, picking up a clever ball past the defender by Gooch, couldn’t beat the keeper from a tight angle, and the half ended with a single added minute and more arguments in the away end. Self included, unfortunately. We’d recovered from Bolton getting back into the game, but just kept running into the home back line, with no defence-splitting pass being in the offing. A pretty (wrong choice of word) frustrating first half, but perhaps with a tiny bit of tinkering we could change things enough to create the crucial opening and take it from there. I know Bolton are on a hiding to nothing this season, and are still on minus points, so surely a goal would knock their legs from under them and open the floodgates.
Aye, right. One change for the second half, with Hume replaced by McLaughlin2 – no surprise, really, as young Denver had been OK going forward, but always under pressure defending, which ain’t much use for a fullback. Strangely, though, O’Nien switched side to play left back for the first time in his adult life, when the sensible money was on McLaughlin2 filling in there, as he’s done already this season. The difference was immediate, with Connor showing well coming forward, but after less than five minutes it all went wrong. He isn’t as fast as O’Nien, and consequently was under pressure when Bolton pushed down their left. He conceded a free kick after being skinned, and it was floated into our area to be met by the head of Will Buckley (always a towering presence in his time on Wearside. Not) and Jack Hobbs was there in acres of space to whack it up into the net. Aw, bugger. A couple of bodies tumbled down the seats behind us as tempers frayed. Ha’way man, there’s still most of the half to go, let’s get our shape sorted and get back into this.
Within a minute, we were nearly level, as O’Nien turned up in the right hand side of the box – come on, Luke, you’re left back – and acrobatically volleyed against the post and off the keeper, with McGeady unable to control it properly and firing into a defender. At least it got the crowd going again. With over half an hour to go, Wyke came on – but Maguire came off, which didn’t go down well with the fans, who’d fully been expecting Grigg to get the heave-ho. Chants of “ you don’t know what you’re doing” broke out, followed by “you’re getting sacked in the morning” as things got decidedly unpleasant in certain areas. Leadbitter put in a tasty free from the right, and Flanagan was alone at the back post, but could only head off the top of the bar. Power came on for Leadbitter on 75, presumably to add some extra movement to midfield, with the captain’s armband going to McGeady. He was the one player who still looked like he might create something, and had a hopeful shout for penalty that would have been unfair on Bolton had it been given. Mind, I’ve seen softer ones given.
Geads looked like he might have got the goal when yet another curler headed for the top corner, but as we readied ourselves to celebrate, their keeper somehow got a hand to it to push it round the post. Unfortunately, that warmed up his game, and Gooch’s shot from distance was dealt with in similar fashion. Five minutes added time were announced, and we kept trying to pile forward, with Wyke knocking highballs back to Grigg, but when it went out to the right, Gooch turned and gave it back to Flan rather than launch it into the box. Not what we needed, Lynden.
Anyhow, we attacked again, this time through the middle, and our fans had a clear view of their sub Zouma keep his right arm straight down and letting the ball hit his hand. In the box. Aiden, you know what to do – never mind giving the keeper the eyes or any jiggery-pokery like that, just put your foot through it.
Which he did, the keeper going the wrong way. Maybe he did give him the eyes. Boom, 1-1. Three minutes to win the game, OK, that was never realistically going to happen, but we gave it a go. Unsuccessfully. The whistle went, a fight broke out in amongst the Bolton fans nearest us, with a couple of folks escaping towards our fans. Sad times indeed.
A draw from that was getting out of jail, really, but out on bail as far as the manager’s concerned. Many of us have defended him, as it’s not him who commits fouls or misses penalties –but it him who picks the team and decides the tactics, and those tactics simply haven’t worked lately. We might have had 20 attempts, but only five were on target. A draw (another bloody draw) won’t hide the fact that despite us supposedly having such a great squad, we were made to look shapeless by a side that only knows each other’s names because they’re on the back of their shirts. It was a performance of Sunday morning organisation in terms of team shape, with the only positive repeated play being McGeady darting here, there, and everywhere. I hate to think what would have happened today had he been absent.
Man of the Match? Guess who. It starts with “Mc” and it’s not a defender or keeper.