Monday, March 24, 2008

Reaction, stats & ratings: Bolton 0 City 0

Unusually for a City fan, Bolton Wanderers have always occupied a special place in my memory.

When I was a kid my Dad, who was a match reporter for a Sunday newspaper, would take me up to Burnden Park and get me in the press box. The experiences provided some early lessons in life. After borrowing my Dad's press pass and using to get past two lines of uniformed stewards, I learned that the difference between being important and not being important was often a 4" by 3" piece of card.

Burnden Park was also where I had my first Roger Melly moment, watching the then Bolton manager Ian Greaves machine-gunning expletives into his conversation with journalists (being a weird kid I timed it on my digital watch and can exclusively reveal that, off camera, Ian Greaves talked at 14 swear words-a-minute).

But there was also an important football lesson to be learned at Burnden Park back in the late 1970s. At the time Bolton were challenging for promotion from the old second division. They were winning games and playing decent football. But most importantly, in Frank Worthington they had a player that set the pulses racing whenever he touched the ball. They also had Willie Morgan, disgarded by Man United as too old, dazzling down the left wing, and the combination was to prove irresistible to the fans who were flocking back to the ground.

It was a lesson taught by the great Bob Lord at Burnley two decades earlier. His formula was to invest heavily in the youth set-up, pay top money for the best manager you can find and ensure the team played exciting football - a formula that took his unfashionable club to the league title in the 1959/60 season and the runners-up spot and FA Cup final in 1961/62.

For me, Bolton are a classic example of a golden rule of football: that being efficient and hard-working is never going to be enough in football, even if it get results. Despite four seasons of top-eight finishes their average attendance slumped from 26,800 to 23,600 and this season stands at 20,400.

City too had been suffering a similar slump in attendances that reflected the lack of excitement on the pitch, and before the takeover were on the type of downward spiral that looks like sending Bolton down this season. But now our game plan appears not too dissimilar to Bob Lord's. Our academy is arguably the best in the country, we're paying top dollar to a big name manager and we're trying to play attractive passing football.

But despite our recent spending, and the early-season flashes of brilliance from Elano, we still desperately lack that special player - a Shaun Wright-Phillips, Kinkladze or a Peter Barnes to get the adrenalin pumping, and to get us talked about and watched by neutrals.

It appears that Thaksin and Eriksson recognise this need too, so now all we can do is wait for the summer transfer window to open and hope.

Just please God, not Beckham.

~ This was another weekend that helped our chances of European qualification through the Fair Play league (there's a guide to how European qualification works here).
The official Fair Play table was last updated on March 4, and since then we've only picked up two bookings.
Behind us in the Fair Play table are Wigan (7 yellows & 1 red since Mar 4), Reading (5 yellows), Fulham (4 yellows), West ham (6 yellows, 1 red) and Portsmouth (4 yellows).

~ Match highlights
~ Sven's post-match interview
~ Getty Images photos
~ Latest Premiership table.

This week on Purely Man City

Tomorrow I'll be publishing the players ratings for the first 30 league games, and later in the week will be running an all-time ranking table for City managers.

I've also been writing a series of articles called Tabloid Tales. The first one, which I'll publish either later this week or early next week, looks at Micah Richards's recent dealings with agents and how they might have shaped his treatment by the tabloid press.

Player ratings

Ratings come from (in order): Manchester Evening News; Fidel Castro (Mancityfans), sky tot (Bluemoon), Kevin Parker (OSC), Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph Opta, Setanta, Sky and the BBC.

Hart: 6, 8, 8, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 6.5 (av: 7.2 MOTM)
Nothing too exacting from shot shy Bolton on a day that was horrible for the keepers. (MEN)
Good in the air and saved us with a magnificent save from Diouf. (Fidel Castro)
One good save and some good punches. (sky tot)

Corluka: 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7, 6.0 (av: 6.7)
No errors in concentration like last match as he returned to his controlled self. (MEN)
(Nearly) back to his best. (Fidel Castro)
Better today, but didn't get forward enough. (sky tot)

Onuoha: 7, 8, 8, 6, 6, 7, 6.5, 7, 6.4(av: 6.9)
One great clearance in the first half and continued to press his claims for rest of season. (MEN)
Dunnesque with less hoofing. (Fidel Castro)
Best performance so far. (sky tot)

Dunne: 7, 7, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6.5, 8, 6.9 (av: 6.8)
Calm and composed even when the bombardment came and set great example. (MEN)
Great defender, shame about his hoofing though. (Fidel Castro)
Another solid performance. (sky tot)

Garrido: 6, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6, 5.7 (av: 6.3)
Looked as though he might be overwhelmed but fought back gallantly. (MEN)
Apart from being painfully slow had a very good game. (Fidel Castro)
Solid game. (sky tot)

Vassell (Caicedo 58): 6, 4, 5, 6, 5, 5, 6.5, 5, 5.7 (av: 5.4)
Easy to see why he was brought in and put his body on line all afternoon. (MEN)
Didn't know he was playing. (Fidel Castro)
No threat again. (sky tot)

Gelson Fernandes: 7, 8, 8, 8, 6, 7, 6, 6, 6.4 (av: 6.9)
One of the big improvers this season and mixed it well with Bolton midfield. (MEN)
A few stray passes but was working for 3 out there, seeing as Johnson and Ireland decided to hide all game. (Fidel Castro)
Would have been a 9 but some stray passes. (sky tot)

Johnson: 7, 5, 5, 7, 6, 7, 6, 5, 6.5 (av: 6.1)
One or two terrific blocks on the edge of his own box but couldn't get forward enough. (MEN)
Far too quiet. (Fidel Castro)
Went missing for a lot of the game. (sky tot)

Ireland (Elano 58): 6, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5.7 (av: 5.5)
Saw one shot cleared off the line by Gardner and hit another chance well wide. (MEN)
One good shot in first half, can't pass for shit and didn't get involved nearly enough. (Fidel Castro)
Unlucky not to score, but again no cutting edge. (sky tot)

Petrov: 6, 7, 7, 6, 5, 5, 7, 7, 7.0 (av: 6.3)
His dead ball delivery was excellent but the pace wasn't all there after his three-match break. (MEN)
Few good crosses, but nobody there to get on the end. (Fidel Castro)
Some great crosses. (sky tot)

Benjani: 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5, 6, 6, 6.0 (av: 5.7)
Struggling for chances and most of his best work outside box. Lacked vision on occasions. (MEN)
Thought he had a good first half, but in the second half he lost every challenge, couldn't hold the ball up and was tripping over his own feet. Ireland and Johnson offered him no support whatsoever though. (Fidel Castro)
Good 1st half, faded 2nd half. Should have scored. (sky tot)


Elano (Ireland 58): 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 6, 7, 7, 5.9 (av: 6.5)
Lively almost scored within seconds of coming on. (MEN)
We finally started playing a bit of football when he came on. Unlucky not to score, but I was impressed with some of his touches and passes. (Fidel Castro)
Nearly scored, we looked more dangerous. (sky tot)

Caicedo (Vassell 58): 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6.5, 7, 5.7 (av: 5.9)
Had glorious chance to open his account and steal points. (MEN)
So unlucky not to score, plus we looked more of a threat going forward with him upfront helping Benjani. (Fidel Castro)
Unlucky not to get his 1st goal. (sky tot)

Subs not used:
Isaksson, Jihai, Castillo

Bolton: Al Habsi, Steinsson, Cahill, O'Brien, Gardner (O'Brien 45), Diouf, Nolan, Campo (McCann 63), Guthrie, Taylor (83 Giannakopoulos 83), Davies
Subs not used: Walker, Rasiak

Match stats

The stats (below) are compiled from a live commentary. For more detailed stats, including a breakdown of each player’s passes and tackles click here (and trawl to the bottom off the page), while you can also find match details at the BBC , Sky and Setanta.

Match reports

Bolton 0 City 0

Snow fun at the Reebok as Bolton draw blank again (Mike Rowbottom)
The ball was coming down with snow on it in a literal sense at the start of the second half as a minor blizzard ensued, and you sensed that if City – so good at home, so indifferent away – were to weaken, it might be then. To Eriksson's satisfaction, they didn't, and they are pressing on to the end of their campaign, refusing to acknowledge that a Uefa Cup place is beyond them.
Perhaps the most warming aspect of the afternoon for City was the encouraging form of the Brazilian midfielder who lit up the early part of their season, Elano, after he came on as a second-half substitute.

Optimism papers over the cracks at Bolton (Alyson Rudd)
Nolan was unhappy at how Corluka reacted after being fouled. “He made a meal of it – that’s what these foreign lads do when they come over here. We just get up and get on with it – that’s the English mentality – but from him I sort of expected it.”
That is perhaps an old-fashioned view of overseas talent, but there has been conjecture about the way Manchester City’s foreign signings, in particular Elano, were so effective at the start of the season, but have faded. The Brazil playmaker came off the bench, however, and gave a gutsy display. “He is a very proud man,” Sven-Göran Eriksson, the City manager, said, “and wants to show me that he should start the game this weekend against Birmingham.”

Campo and Nolan hint at Bolton's lack of harmony (Steve Bierley)
Manchester City began the season in a state of transition and still look that way. Benjani appeared no more comfortable in the lone striker's role than any of his predecessors while, until the arrival of Elano on the hour, the central midfield lacked creative impulse. Martin Petrov remains City's best attacking option but there is an obvious need to find a balancing right-sided player of similar pace. "Next season all our new players will be better, because they will know what the Premier League is about," said Sven-Goran Eriksson. A change of formation might also help.

Tension tells on Bolton after Man City draw (James Mossop)
For cold, abject, footballing poverty you had to join the shivering thousands as they watched their Bolton team slide closer to the doom-laden prospect of relegation from the Premier League.
The entire match was a shocker with Manchester City contributing to the misery at a time when they have targeted a top 10 finish. A point apiece was more like a point of nothing.

Aimless Bolton Wanderers give Gary Megson cause for concern (Paul Rowan)
While Bolton Wanderers dominated for much of a bitterly cold afternoon yesterday, they still gave the impression that hell might freeze over before they manage to score another goal in the Premier League. They drew a blank for the third league game in a row and their manager, Gary Megson, will hardly have taken comfort from breaking a run of five successive league defeats, so blunted were his team in front of goal.

Bolton spirit wanes as Campo fails to look back in anger (Duncan Mackay)
The loss of Nicolas Anelka is beginning to look like it might turn out to be an expensive folly. Bolton may have got £15 million from him, but they stand to lose double that if they are relegated. For all the possession they enjoyed, they had to wait until the final minute before they managed a serious effort on target, Davies rising to head a cross towards the bottom corner only to have his celebrations cut short when Martin Petrov booted it clear.

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