This match has left a familiar taste in Boltonian mouths: disappointment. Full credit to Fulham, they played a great match, and to the neutral I’m sure it was exciting, but that was not the Bolton that plays at the Reebok. We were out passed, out played, and out classed. Owen Coyle and his merry band of footballers have received a lot of praise this season, but a simple fact is becoming very apparent, they just can’t perform away from home. Before the match, Opta stats told us that Bolton have gotten just 1 point from the last 27 available, which can now be upped to 1 from 30. But before I get too into the big picture, let’s talk about this match.
Things started well enough, and within the first 30 seconds a Kevin Davies ball sliced through the box and found Muamba, who sent it goal-ward. Very shortly after Fulham mounted an attack of their own, as Clint Dempsey roused a good save from Jaaskelainen. This set the tone for the rest of the match. There were fast paced attacks coming from both sides, but Fulham's always looked more convincing. In the 14th minute Dempsey (it had to be Dempsey) took advantage of Fulham dominance and slotted the ball home, exposing the static Bolton defense.
While the half was largely end to end stuff, any Bolton move simply broke down in the final third. Fulham always looked more likely to score, while Bolton looked like they were playing catch up. There’s a lot of talk circulating of “lack of passion”, but I don’t think that’s it at all. Something just wasn’t clicking for the Wanderers, promising moves ended in sloppy passes to a white shirt, good looks at goal ended in limp shots straight at Schwarzer, free kicks in good positions ended with the ball soaring over the cross bar. This wasn’t a bored team, this was a team that didn’t know what they were doing.
It was clear that if we wanted to stay in the game, we had to score a goal. However Clint Dempsey had something to say about that, and just 3 minutes after the restart he scored again. It was quite clear that Bolton weren’t coming back. In the 64th Hangeland put the final nail in Bolton’s coffin as he rose above Gary Cahill to head a free kick home. Although the scoring was done, Bolton woes weren’t over and 2 minutes later, Steinsson had to come off after getting a knock on his tackle on Dempsey earlier. With Ricketts out, David Wheater (a central defender) went on in his place, raising frightening questions of what our back four will look like if Gretar is really out.
All in all, it was a frustrating and disappointing match. How can a team that put in such a good shift against Arsenal proves themselves completely inept against a mid-table side that’s had a dodgy season? That isn’t meant to disrespect Fulham, as they out played us on the day, but I don’t think anyone can deny that a Bolton team playing as we know they can wouldn’t at least earn a point against the London club. Coyle’s done amazing things at the Reebok, but he simply can’t coach away from home. Something has got to give next season, because relying on Fortress Reebok is not going to work forever.