If you missed the match, don't let the tight scoreline fool you. It was miserable. Apart from a 10 ten minute fizzle, Bolton spent the game ineptly defending all too frequent Norwich forays. The Bolton Panic Machine is in full effect, and comparisons to the Megson era are being drawn (although I would say they were alarmist). This is, in fact, the first time in Bolton's history the Wanderers have lost 5 consecutive home matches in a row. The last comparable streak? In 1903, while in the 2nd division, we lost 4 in a row. While this really has been building since our over-dependence on Stu Holden last year, Bolton truly appear to be spinning into crisis now.The goal was always coming. The Canaries were dominant and attacking from the start and neither Jussi Jaaskelainen nor the defense in general looked prepared to suffer the onslaught. In the 37th minute (I'm surprised it took that long) Anthony Pilkington managed to direct the ball, off a pass from Morison, into the back of the net. Bolton markers were nowhere to be found, with a special mention to Cahill who allowed Morison to slip away from him and then stood helplessly between the two players, leading to the goal.
Bolton misery would be doubled just 5 minutes later, when an unmarked Johnson easily headed a corner home. While many Bolton fans are calling him slow and past it, Jussi was not really at fault for either of the goals, but was let down by a defense that looked as though it was borrowed by a local primary school. It was made obvious just how little he trusted them when we came 20 yards out of his box to clear a ball that should have been Robinson's. The half had a bit more in store for the White men, as Klasnic got himself sent off in stoppage time. He received a straight red, after bumping heads with Tierney, who immediately fell to the ground as though he'd been shot. While the contact was minimal, and Tierney made a huge meal of it, it's true that you can't really do that and it was daft of Klasnic. A straight red was harsh, but technically fair.
In an unusual but necessary move Coyle used two substitutes at halftime, with Chris Eagles replacing Tuncay and David Ngog replacing Kevin Davies. The start of the second half was quiet after the events near the end of the first, but in the 64th minute Ngog gave the Wanderers some hope by earning a penalty after a shove from Barnett. Petrov, arguably man of the match (admittedly amongst easy competition), stepped up to the spot and coolly drove it into the left corner. He immediately collected the ball from the net and carried the ball back to the center in a desire to get on with it.
And Bolton did get on with it for about 10 minutes. The period immediately following the goal was undoubtedly the best of the match. Eagles made several good runs and topped them off with a convincing shot that was sent over the bar by Ruddy. It looked like an undeserved equaliser was on it's way, but even Ngog's superb shot in stoppage time was saved.
Owen Coyle was not his usual cheery self in the post match interview, saying:
"To concede the two goals from set-plays certainly wasn't good enough. We're all designated markers and we haven't done well enough in that department. [T]his was self inflicted. There's no doubt it's a disappointing game and we have to do far better from start to finish."
There are positives to take from this match. While the tactical substitutions didn't make enough of a difference, it was palpable. Owen Coyle has been getting tactics all wrong all season, but he's demonstrated a little flexibility in his deviation from the formulaic 60th minute sub. The subs he put on did look good, especially Ngog who on another day would have scored. The most important thing. however, is that while it was difficult to tell at times, Bolton never gave up. Even after going 2 goals down, and then down to 10 men, they managed to show a bright spot in the second half. The comparisons that are being drawn with the Megson era aren't taking this into account. Once again, this fight back was nowhere near enough, but it proved that Bolton do have heart.
The club is in a bit of a crisis at the moment. We have a terrible run of results behind us, and a challenging set of fixtures ahead, starting with Aston Villa in the Carling Cup on Tuesday. Between now and then, the defense needs to learn to mark and close down, the midfield needs to learn how to retain the ball, and the forwards need to learn how to make proper runs forward. Most of all Coyle needs to figure out how to stop the club from spiraling further, or we may be looking at a relegation battle in March rather than dreaming of the FA Cup again.