While I haven't exactly been starved of football this summer, between the Gold Cup and the Women's World Cup, there is nothing like watching the mighty Bolton Wanderers. The Trotters began their preseason with a stop in at Al Lang Stadium to play FC Tampa Bay. There was a considerable home advantage, boys from Bolton are not used to humid heat, so it was a good test of fitness. They might be a mid-table side in America's second division, but Tampa Bay made it clear that this didn't mean the game was a foregone conclusion.
Bolton dominated play in the first half, but Tampa Bay had the better shots. Coyle put out a line up that could very well be our starting XI next season. Darren Pratley made his first appearance in a Bolton shirt, partnering Mark Davies in the midfield, and looked quite sharp. I miss Stu Holden a lot, but Pratley has the potential to be a very good bit of business. If you've read the blog for a while, you'll know that I (controversially) am not Paul Robinson's biggest fan, however he impressed tonight. He looked quite fit, was making the right runs, and didn't once make me cringe with a tackle.
In fact, most of the players were decent, mixing some nice passing with tried-and-true long ball tactics. Jussi was tested several times by Mozzi Gyorio, and in spite of my many declarations that he is losing it, was solid. I think the pink keeper kit is giving him some sort of power. At the other end, Tampa keeper Attinella also impressed, easily dealing with the few shots heading his way. The first half was by no means poor, but was rather uneventful.
Coyle ushered in the second with the expected amount of substitutions. Jussi, Robinson, Knight, Pratley, Mark Davies, Taylor, and Klasnic made way for Bogdan, Alonso, Wheater, Muamba, Gardner, Petrov, and Robbie Blake (who apparently can still play). This massive change appeared to be working, and Bolton were looking much the dominant side, testing the new Tampa goal keeper Evan Newton several times. However, in the 65th minute FC Tampa Bay had something to say about this, and Matt Clare scored assisted by Pascal Millien. This was followed by another round of substitutions, putting on Obadeyi, Connolly, and Eaves for Chungy, Steinsson, and Kevin Davies, leaving Cahill the only man to play 90 minutes.
In the end, it was a disappointing if not heart breaking game. While you would expect an ambitious Premiership side to beat Tampa Bay, there was some promising playing done. It should not be forgotten that Tampa Bay are half way through their season and playing at home, while Bolton have been together for 10 days and were in a foreign climate. Hopefully the rest of the tour will bring better results, as this has whetted my appetite.