What a match! Even from a neutral's perspective, this was an exciting one. While neither team showed much on the defending side of things, the fast paced attacks coming from both ends made it difficult to blink. To me matches like this are better than watching Barcelona completely outclass some poor team. Each team really going for it, providing competition and keeping you on the edge of your seat. Obviously Bolton are no Barca (or Brazil), and this was not the best performance from them I've seen this season. But it had heart. We were down a goal twice, and came back each time. It didn't feel like I was actually watching Bolton. It was unbelievably elating.
This is not to say that there weren't moments when my stomach sank into my toes. Just four minutes in Villa brought the nerves when Bent went one on one with Jussi, but somehow lost control of the ball and I could breathe again. In the 14th minute Bent made up for his previous misstep by nudging the ball past Jaaskelainen after a great cross from Kyle Walker. Our defense was nowhere to be seen. I must say, we've lost quite a bit of organization while Zat Knight's been out. It is interesting how integral he's become in our team, especially considering my original misgivings.
From that point, Villa certainly looked the better team, but not by much. Both sides continued to launch scintillating attacks, only to give the ball away in the final this. Bolton had some good spells of possession and some nice passing, but then undermined it with the one sloppy pass that gave the ball away. Bolton was given two successive free kicks around the box in about the 35th minute, but managed to waste both of them by hitting the (rather solid) wall. It looked as though Coyle's half time words were not going to be very nice, when suddenly, a minute before halftime, Gary Cahill did something great. Cahill, the very same man who left Villa for Bolton because he couldn't break into the first team, escaped his marker to nod a Petrov corner into the back of the net. And so we went into the break level.
The main issue that Bolton had in the first half was a lack of organisation and communication. This continued for the first part of the second, especially in defense. We were lucky not to concede in the 54th minute when Cahill deflected Bent's shot off the line and then Jussi saved the shot Young made off the rebound. However Villa got the goal they were pushing for just 10 minutes later when Albrighton smashed home Downing's cross. Once again, the Bolton defense was not even close, having failed to get back after a Villa break away. Thing got worse in the 69th minute when Wheater committed a stupid foul inside the box and conceded a penalty. At this point, I thought the game was over. The likelihood of Bolton coming back from two goals down with 20 minutes to go was slim indeed. Ashley Young stepped up to the spot. Mercifully for the men in white, he sent a mediocre penalty to Jussi's right, and the big Finn saved it.
Jaaskelainen's success seemed to spur Bolton on and after that we were playing much more aggressively. In the 74th, only 5 minutes after the close call, Gary Cahill equalised for the second time. He leapt up, unmarked to head Stu's corner right at Friedel, who parried. Cahill then quickly ran to pick up the rebound which he shot into the goal, showing quite a bit of skill for a central defender. Bolton were really going for it now.
And sure enough, they got it. 10 minutes after the equaliser, Klasnic put himself on the score sheet after receiving the ball all alone in the middle of the box. This was not the Bolton we all used to know and resent. This team had heart. This team wanted to play football, wanted to score goals, wanted to win. Technical brilliance may not have been abundant in this game, but excitement sure was. It may not have been our best performance this season, but it was the best game to watch. I love you, Bolton Wanderers.
Goals can be found here