It feels a bit like the first day at a new school. You want to make a good impression, start out on the right foot, make sure the cool kids like you. Bolton Wanderers did exactly none of this in their first match back in the Championship after a 10 year spell in the Premiership. It would be forgivable if everyone was a bit rusty, but today went beyond that, into the realm of cluelessness.
While it's true that a lot of matches take a while to warm up, neither team found any real fluency in the first 25 minutes. Burnley had the first real chance of the match, when Martin Paterson's volley hit the top of Adam Bogdan's net on the 11th minute. Keith Andrews seemed keen to prove his physical prowess and earned himself Bolton's first yellow card of the season with a couple of rough challenges. Bolton seemed to wake up in the 23rd minute, when Martin Petrov broke quickly and passed to Marvin Sordell. Sordell put in a good pass to Chung-Yong Lee, but the Korean seemed befuddled by the ball at his feet, and his shot went limply wide.
Burnley tested Bogdan, the first of a long shift for our Cheesy Wotsit, just 3 minutes later with a long range rocket from Dean Marney. The match settled down after that, and apart from a shot by Petrov, Burnley comfortably settled into a period of dominance. This paid off in the 39th minute when, after 2 deflections Martin Paterson sent the ball to the back of Bogdan's net. The goal does appear to have been offside, but no one can say that Burnley didn't deserve it on the run of play.
The half ended with the hosts up by one goal. Mark Davies appeared lost in a 4 man midfield, and Botlon were unable to maintain any possession. This combined with Bolton's lack of lethal finishing, made Burnley's lead almost inevitable. Eddie Howe will have been pleased with the performance put in by his side and made no changes at the half, but strangely neither did Owen Coyle.
From a Bolton perspective, the second half was the Adam Bogdan show. The Clarets, with Turf Moor loudly behind them, set about putting the Hungarian to the test. He once again proved himself invaluable, mitigating the damage, but there's only so much a goalkeeper can do. On the 56th minute, Junior Stanislas, who had been threatening all day, put a deadly cross across the face of goal, which Charlie Austin, who easily escaped Tim Ream's marking, toed in.
Coyle's double change 2 minutes later, Benik Afobe and Chris Eagles on for Kevin Davies and Martin Petrov, came really too late. It did appear to liven up the Bolton offense a bit, Afobe looking like he could be dangerous, but the Wanderers really couldn't get a foot in the game. They resorted to an ineffective long ball strategy which merely frustrated further. Coyle made another late change, taking off the invisible Mark Davies and replacing him with Darren Pratley, in the 76th minute, but any grip Bolton had on the match was surely lost.
Tyrone Mears threatened the goal in the 80th minute, the first real challenge from Bolton in the half, but the ball went wide. There were a few more chances from Bolton before the end, but none of them even forced Lee Grant to make a save. The match ended without much action at 2-0.
Once again, it's been made clear that the 4-4-2 just won't work with Bolton. Keith Andrews put in a decent, if rough, display as a defensive midfielder, but it's clear that Mark Davies needs more men around him to make any difference at all. This is a team that struggles with possession at the best of times and having two strikers up top makes no difference at all if they don't receive any service. Even though it was clear to many of us long ago, I hope this match has elucidated the fact that we need a stronger midfield to Coyle.
Ultimately, this is far from ideal. Any delusions that fans may have been holding that Bolton will sail through this league should have been well and truly shattered by that performance. Many of the problems Bolton had on the pitch last season seem to still be prevalent, and the lack of on-field chemistry is not good. But, there are still 45 games left in the season. Last season Bolton started on top of the table with an excellent 4-0, and went on to be relegated. This match should serve as a warning for Owen Coyle and the club at large. There are quite a few problems with the team, but there's also a lot of time left to fix them.