Great writing man, you've got a gift at this sort of thing. Definitely an enjoyable read.
13 December 2014 – Bolton Wanderers (15-3-2, first place) v Ipswich Town (2-8-10, 24th place)
Championship Match Day #21 – Macron Stadium, Bolton
When Ipswich Town’s coach arrived at the Macron, I was not ready for what I saw.
Brian McDermott led them off, having been hired the evening before. The former Reading manager would have a side very keen to impress their new boss, having drawn 1-1 at home to Leeds the week before under caretaker Terry Connor and falling into 24th and bottom place in the Championship in the process.
Brian spent most of his career with Arsenal though he did play briefly for Oxford United in their First Division days before finishing his career in the lower leagues. His first managerial job was at Slough before he went into scouting for nine years. Then he took over Reading and won the Championship Manager of the Year award in 2012 as he got the Royals promoted for the second time.
A year later, though, he was gone, and went to Leeds for a year before losing that position. Now, he’s at the Macron opposing me.
This match, from my point of view, had “trip wire” written all over it. Ipswich would be desperate to impress their new boss, we had a one-point lead over rampaging Fulham to protect, and we were going to be heavily favoured to do the business at home.
In short, it was going to be a challenge.
In fact, the match was already into the players’ heads after I shook hands with McDermott and headed to the changing room to speak with the players.
The attitude was different. Players were quiet, sullen even, with headphones on and staring into space. I had to get this stopped and in a hurry.
“Listen up, fellows,” I said as I entered the room, and the players still had the presence of mind to stop what they were doing. “I know this is not going to be an easy match. They’ve got a new manager as of this morning who is going to be on the bench with them and will be keen to get off to a flying start. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen. But here’s the thing; you have to understand that you’re top and they’re bottom for a reason. You’re a better club than they are. So relax. The result will come because we’re prepared and ready for what we’ll see. Now, get loose and let’s have a good day today.”
That seemed to help, especially in the case of Mills, known for his tendency to drift in concentration.
The key changes: Tierney back in at left-back since if he played well he might showcase himself for one of the clubs he says wants him; Vela restored to midfield after a good week of training and keeping his mouth shut; and Mason in the hole position because, even after his time away he was still my leading scorer.
That, and he was ready to come back. That involved dropping Craig Davies to the bench and I didn’t like that much given his recent form, but one does what one has to.
But when the match started, it was the visitors who were the better side. We were flat, sluggish, everything you wouldn’t expect from a table-topping team facing the bottom side at home.
At times, it didn’t look as though we could complete a simple pass. We were slow on the ball, slow off the ball, and ridiculously easy to catch in possession. Tierney was the first one to get burned, coughing up the ball in nineteen minutes with only Mills between Bogdán and forward David McGoldrick, with the late-arriving Stephen Hunt chugging up the middle on an angled run from his left midfield position.
Mills charged down McGoldrick, who simply squared for Hunt. But, shooting off his weaker foot, the former Reading man screwed his shot wide to the left of Bodgán’s goal and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
We weren’t ourselves, that much was plain. It was a full half hour before we started to generate any form of meaningful attack, but then we came close twice in quick succession.
Moxey was first, barely missing the top left corner of the goal when in reality trying to cross for Beckford, but even that accidental foray was better than anything we had managed previously.
Soon afterward, it was Mason, and that was welcome. His rasping effort from twenty yards glanced of the crossbar and over, though, which was cause for dismay but not despair.
For the remainder of the half, we were better and when the halftime whistle went I could legitimately tell the team I thought the result was on the cards.
“You’ve got out of the stupor you were in,” I said. “Good teams are able to do that and you were right on the mark for the last fifteen minutes. You did everything but score, so if you keep working hard the points are out there for you.”
With that, I let Spooner handle the individual talks while I sat in my office trying to figure out how to help my players break down the Tractor Boys.
I watched video on an iPad and saw essentially what I had seen at field level: a solid, organized defence and just a hint of desperation in their play that meant they’d be devilishly hard to break down. In short, barring a lapse in concentration from them in the second half, we’d just have to be patient and find a way through.
We were getting uneven play from our wings, though, and that was disappointing. Moxey was his usual solid self on the left but for a change Chung-Yong wasn’t having his usual game on our right. The Ipswich alignment tried to close down both our wingers – which should have meant more space for Vela as the attacking half of our central midfield duo – but he wasn’t having the greatest match of his life either, and it did make me miss having Mark Davies in the eighteen. However, the veteran’s play simply hasn’t warranted his inclusion, and that’s unfortunate.
So it was Vela or sink, and as such the best I could do was encourage the young man to actually play the kind of match he has been telling me for weeks he can play. After his incident with the press, I felt he owed the club at least that much – never mind me, the manager who he had slated.
In this case, though, patience was not a virtue. Beckford and Spearing both went down with injuries just after the start of the second half and I took them both off at the same time in 54 minutes, bringing Medo and Clough into the game. Spearing got his foot stepped on hard and was really hobbling, while Beckford left more alarmingly, clutching his left hip.
So, there they both were, The Malcontent Twins, running my central midfield into the ground and unable to find a way through the bottom team in our league. The fans were starting to get impatient and I suddenly remembered today’s “Stat of the Day” as printed before the match by the ever-helpful Brandon King:
“Wanderers have scored in every match – friendly, cup and league – since Bobby Malone took over in August.”
Right then, it didn’t look good for us finding a goal, and even though Ipswich was almost literally no threat at all to us, we just couldn’t break them down.
The match ticked last sixty … seventy … seventy-five minutes without a goal anywhere in sight. I took off Chung-Yong of all people since he was starting to look jaded, hoping Hall’s fresh legs, even though on his off-wing, could give us a spark.
The thought of only gaining one point on Fulham with their match at Leeds still to be played really started to raise my hackles on the bench, but the more I pushed and cajoled, the more it looked as though the players just didn’t have anything left to give – an alarming state.
The fourth official held up his board for four minutes of added time, for the substitutions and the injuries to Beckford and Spearing, and the crowd finally got into the match, urging us to try to find a winner from somewhere.
Three minutes passed before we finally got forward, and then Hall got fully into the match, getting deep to the byline as the last moments of the match played out.
His cross narrowly missed the sliding Clough’s boot.
But it didn’t miss defender Jack Collison, who watched in horror as the ball glanced off him and into his own net for an own goal.
The Macron crowd exploded with joy and relief, Collison looked like he was near tears, and most of the Ipswich players sagged to the turf in frustration. It was, pure and simply, a gift, and the last kick of the match wasn’t even ours.
All I could do was shake McDermott’s hand and tell him he deserved a better fate. We had still scored in every match in my charge – but this time, a Bolton player hadn’t done the scoring.
Match Summary: Bogdán: Vermijl, Mills, Wheater, Tierney, Spearing (Medo 54), Chung-Yong (Hall 80), Vela, Moxey, Mason, Beckford (Clough 54). Unused subs: Lonergan, McNaughton, Ream, C. Davies.
Bolton Wanderers 1 (Jack Collison o/g 90+5)
Ipswich Town 0
A – 20,004, Macron Stadium, Bolton
Man of the Match: Marc Tierney, Bolton (MR 7.1)
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