What a game. These past weeks have been nervy, our star player was injured and we immediately suffered a disheartening loss. Excitement for the semi-final has been building, but right with it has come the doom-and-gloom feeling so familiar to Bolton fans. However, today's game has done something to calm these fears. In a game widely predicted to be a draw, and a sloppy one at that, it turned out to be an exciting, aggressive game, with no shortage of goals from the men in white. A clean sheet and a good team performance, what better way to go into the semi-final? If you missed the match, here are the goals
The first half must have been the most encouraging 45 minutes I've seen from Bolton in a while. Almost immediately Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge were getting up and testing Rob Green. Just 14 minutes in, Green would prove not up to the test, as Sturridge curled a perfect shot past the helpless keeper. Sturridge immediately ran to the technical area to hug Coyle. Bless. Johan Elmander, who was playing in the central midfield with Muamba in Stu's absence, assisted the goal, and proved to be a vital creative force throughout the game. I was a little dubious at his placement in the midfield, especially after his mediocre performances on the wing, but he certainly proved me wrong. The Bolton machine proceeded to boss the game, West Ham's only real threat being Wayne Bridge, who was mostly taken care of by Gretar Steinsson.
Just 6 minutes later Chung-Yong, an absolute work horse, would double our lead for us. He started the move by passing the ball up field from his own half, and then sprinting up into the box. Meanwhile Elmander crossed the ball across the field from the right wing to Petrov on the left. Petrov then sent the ball into the box where Chungy waited, unmarked, and then sent it into the back of the net with a simple header. Bolton were looking rampant. The rest of the half progressed in much the same manner, and West Ham were rather lucky to keep the deficit at 2.
Whatever Avram Grant said at half time worked, and in the second half West Ham decided to play a bit. While they never managed to score, they did test Bolton a little, and made me worry about our defense. It was Zat's first game back with the first team, and while individual performances were not particularly at fault, our back four wasn't working that well as a unit. However, Sturridge was to take the pressure off a bit by scoring his second in the 51st minute, a shot across the box into the corner of the goal. The West Ham defense looked a little like a pub side, nullifying any effect their attack was having. After the third goal, Bolton let off the steam a little, but to no avail.
With just over 10 minutes left, Coyle took off our two wingers, who played their boots off, and let Matty Taylor and Rodrigo Moreno have a go. Several minutes later, captain Kevin Davies, who had a quiet game, was replaced by Ivan Klasnic. Both Klasnic and Moreno has chances, but neither was able to convert. The whistle blew on a game I couldn't have asked much more from. Coyle seems to have solved the central midfield conundrum with a highly competent Johan Elmander. This was a true team performance, with every player putting in a good shift.
I'm still nervous about Wembley, but now I've got a sneaking hope. This team hasn't been consistently top half this season for no reason. We play together, and at times we're damn good. Coyle said in an interview "on our day we can go toe to toe with any team" and I truly believe this. April 17th, that's gonna be our day.