The last few weeks haven’t really been great to be a Town fan. Nine points from ten games and proof that when our first team players are unavailable, the squad is not quite at a standard to compete in the Championship.
Middlesbrough taught us a lesson and a resurgent Leeds outplayed Town, as Simon Grayson had a truly off day with his tactics. Whilst some fans realise that without the likes of James Vaughan and Keith Southern we are going to struggle, other fans have chosen to use those not in form as scapegoats.
The less said about the abuse towards some of our younger stars the better. I will though always defend the likes of Alex Smithies and Danny Ward who have been the victims in Town fans frustrations. They are both young lads who are still learning and developing, yes they will be inconsistent, make poor decisions and mistakes but they are quality players.
Anyway, yesterday was a marked improvement on recent weeks. Although Bolton could have taken the lead through Keith Andrews, who forced Smithies into a fine early save, Town dominated the first half. Reverting to the 4-3-3 that saw us put in promising performances at the start of the season, Town controlled the first half for large parts with Ollie Norwood and Adam Clayton pulling the strings in midfield.
Norwood has been poor of late, but his return to the starting line-up means quality delivery from set pieces. It was no surprise when we took the lead from a corner with his wonderful delivery, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Bolton concede such a soft goal as Zat Knight headed into his own net.
There were then two moments when the game could have been put to bed. Firstly, Town hit Bolton on the break after a surging run from Chris Atkinson, he found Clayton whose shot was parried by Adam Bogdan only for Simon Church to square the rebound for Lee Novak who managed to hit the bar from two yards. Yes it was a tight angle, but that should have been 2-0.
Secondly, Adam Bogdan could have been sent off for catching a cross outside his area. In recent weeks I have seen Smithies and Petr Cech both booked when sliding out of the penalty areas with ball in hand unintentionally, but both releasing the ball. However, Bogdan caught the ball outside the penalty area and only dropped the ball once the linesman had flagged with players from both teams around him. Even after checking the rules it is unclear whether it is a red due to the word unintentional, but for me it should have been a red card, he had to know he caught it a good yard outside the box.
Half-time came and we looked fairly comfortable at 1-0, with only Chris Eagles causing us any issues, but I had an eerie feeling Novak’s miss would cost us and Bolton would come out all guns blazing and they did.
You would think that Grayson would have told the players to continue what they were doing, but second half our passing and possession play had returned to silly long punts forward as we sat deeper and deeper. Bolton were passing it around and we needed a change with Atkinson looking tired and Church being ineffective as ever. The change never came and Bolton equalised through Mark Davies after a surging run from midfield and a quality finish.
Bolton could have taken the lead when Paul Dixon brought Sam Ricketts down in the area, a very soft penalty but whenever a player goes to ground in the box there is always a risk. Anyway Eagles stepped up and Smithies made a fine save to keep us in the game, a fantastic boost to his confidence and a reminder to the doubters of what a marvellous ‘keeper we have.
Even though we went 4-4-2 when Scannell came on, Bolton continued to dominate. A long ball forward aimed at Kevin Davies took both our centre backs attention and Davies collected the ball running from midfield squared it to Eagles who comfortably slotted it past Smithies.
Finally Grayson brought on Ward and Lee, two players I felt should have come on 15 minutes earlier and they really did change the game. Ward and Scannell got the ball and ran at Bolton’s defence unlike Church had playing up top and it was a run down the wing from Ward that saw Bolton panic and just clear their lines. Minutes later Bogdan kept Bolton ahead when a cross was nearly turned into their own by one of Bolton’s centre backs.
The pressure from Town finally paid off when two minutes from the end Jack Hunt’s well weighted ball found Alan Lee who turned the ball into the path of Vaughan, first time BANG 2-2. How we have missed Vaughan and his whole hearted displays, even after an hour when he looked spent he tried his hardest and he nearly managed to grab the winner. A defensive error from Tim Ream let Vaughan hit a superb 25 yard shot only for Bogdan to pull off an equally stunning save.
A great game to watch, fantastic entertainment and some quality football. It may be a cliché, but yesterday was a fantastic advert for championship football and it reminded Town fans that we can compete in this division. Yes Bolton may be in the bottom half but they have a squad of players who have all experienced the Premier League. A draw was probably a fair result with both teams having chances to win the game. However, I felt we just edged it.
Yesterday was also a reminder that we really miss Keith Southern, we have missed him more than Vaughan or Beckford and in January we need to sign a midfielder who can provide adequate cover because Anton Robinson and Scott Arfield are nowhere near good enough for this division. I’d say both have them have had their last chances at the club because in Chris Atkinson we have a really promising midfielder who looks good on the ball, if he can improve his defensive game he can succeed at this level.
Yesterday was a positive and important performance ahead of what looks to be two very challenging away fixtures.