Cuban Claret looks back on our opening week’s action in an article which was written before the Huddersfield defeat this Saturday.
HUNGER. Desire. Focus. Three of Owen Coyle`s well worn watchwords.
His Bolton team would need to show these qualities during every minute of every game in the Championship he said ahead of Saturday.But no matter how hard he might have wanted it, his players were not on the same page as Burnley. Out-fought and out-thought by a team who indeed played in the spirit of the side he shaped during his successful tenure at Turf Moor.
And how the home fans rose to it….creating a special, bouncing and ultimately jubilant atmosphere that, in truth, we`ve rarely witnessed since the one-time ‘deity` departed.
The first match of the 2007/08 season against relegated West Brom under Steve Cotterill was our reference point for this one. But the ensuing elation was more akin to Manchester United in the Premier League, such was the substance of the performance and the satisfaction of the outcome.
A proper football ground ‘conducive to a good footballing atmosphere` was another Coyle catchphrase. He certainly knows all about the hostility that the home sections are capable of at Turf Moor, whether it be under lights or in glorious sunshine.
Looking down on the sun-drenched Longside lower from the Jimmy Mac upper, the Turf was a blaze of colour, the edge-of-your-seat atmosphere was palpable. Whether the players could draw on this as a galvanising force or whither under the intensifying heat was in the balance.
Bolton were bright on paper and the news of Brian Stock starting on the bench was a concern.
Ross Wallace was deployed centrally early on and it was Dean Marney picking up the defensive zone, putting himself about like a rabid dog.
Actually it was a masterstroke Marney being in there and the way he and McCann went about closing down space was key to our strategy of reducing Bolton`s threat.
Mark Davies was kept quiet and Keith Andrews? well he has never looked particularly good anyway….we had the battle for the centre of the park pretty much dominated by the half hour mark, never to relinquish.
We looked a different team to last season defensively. Jason Shackell played as well as Chris Boden had described him on the radio (possibly as well as an “on-field Steve Davis” could have played), David Edgar likewise and a thoroughly impressive league debut from Joe Mills who I can`t help think has a look of Gaiska Mendieta, at least from the Jimmy Mac Upper.In fact we were so solid that serial 2011/12 man-of-the-match winner Keiran Trippier stood out less than his defensive colleagues.
Lee Grant looked assured behind this team and defending from the front of course were our two goalscorers Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin. As pleasing as it was to see them both notch, it was frustrating the former not make the line-up at Middlesbrough on Tuesday.
Eddie Howe said all the right things after Bolton. He acknowledged the “gigantic performances” from most of his players but he rightly pointed to the need for consistency and sent out a warning shot for the visit to the Riverside. His hand was not helped by an injury to Pato who had looked uncomfortable during the closing stages against Bolton.
A chance then for Sam Vokes to press his claims. Certainly there was little to concern us as the match got into gear. It looked like a great time to be playing Middlesbrough. They looked like a team still smarting from a dismal opening day defeat at Barnsley and we soon established a lively foothold in the game.
They also had no recognised strikers with Marvin Emnes and Lukas Jutkiewitz injured and Scott MacDonald sidelined. Young Curtis Main looked a little out of his depth against our new-look defence.
We really set off on a very positive footing and took the game right to them. Ross Wallace`s opportunity in the 6th minute – laid on a plate by McCann`s smart pass – really was a gilt edger. I can only remember a decent free-kick from Boro`s Ledesma and a half chance for Rhys Williams for the home team, whereas as we went close with an Austin header, a Sam Vokes turn and shot and a David Edgar shot after a corner. Funnily enough our dominance had waned by the time we did take the lead five minutes before half-time. It looked ridiculously easy from the other end. Trippier made simple progress down the right after receiving the ball from Marney and knocked a great ball in for Austin who swooped at the front post in clinical fashion. Order restored but it turned out to be merely a prelude to a pathetically deflating moment when Nicky Bailey drove in a 25 -yard daisy cutter after Shackell had perhaps failed in his duty to clear the ball effectively. His first black mark.
It certainly changed the mood at half-time, though I still felt we had it in us to regain the initiative. But it was Middlesbrough who improved after the break. Considerably. We were poor in possession with Marney and McCann being overrun by Boro`s axis of Leadbitter Bailey and McEacheran. We also looked leggy – I actually thought Marney was going to go off at one point so gingerly was his movement. What we needed was a midfielder to get his foot on the ball and help us fight for the centre ground that was being dominated by Bailey, Leadbitter and McEacheran. Surely that man was Brian Stock from the bench but when the change did come it was Marvin Bartley (for Vokes). He was soon booked for a reckless challenge, leaving us to wonder whether Stock was actually deemed fit enough to take part.
The home side took the game to us. Grant made some decent saves but he could do nothing when 19-year-old Adam Reach lamped in a ‘hit and hope` from a preposterous angle. I didn`t see us coming back to be honest and fair play to McCann for getting on the end of Trippier`s cross (I`m sure it was in before Stanislas scrambled home the rebound). With five minutes on the clock it was a case of respect the point but there was really nothing we could have done to pre-empt the weapon of mass destruction that was unleashed from the right boot of another 19-year-old, Luke Williams.
It was very much a deja vu scenario from the Estonian chappie Tarmo Kink who nailed two late goals to sink us a couple of years ago. Boro clearly have some good young players and as we ducked out into the clear Middlesbrough air ahead of the whistle, I`d had a total reversal of thought regarding the prospects for Tony Mowbray`s team. They had played their way into the game and can reflect on strong performances from the spine of their team, very much as we had done on Saturday. When they get their strikers fit they will be a force, and a potential play-off side. We should not be too critical at this juncture as Eddie said afterwards.
Meanwhile, with the news of Wolves finally agreeing to sell Steven Fletcher for twice the money they bought him from us, the club will receive a welcome windfall. It seems we have gone public on our pursuit of a new pacy striker / creative midfielder. Tuesday certainly highlighted the need for this with Ings, Paterson and Treacy unavailable. From the 180 minutes I have seen so far, we really are one player with a bit of magic short of a very decent Championship outfit.