After waiting for what felt like an eternity, football returned on Saturday. To celebrate 125 years of the Football League, founder Burnley entertained fellow founders Bolton at one of the oldest grounds still in use. These two teams have met 115 times since their first league fixture in 1888. The game finished 1-1 with a pair of first half goals scored by two men in white shirts.
Wanderers started the match with Adam Bogdan, Alex Baptiste, Zat Knight, David Wheater, Marc Tierney, Keith Andrews, Medo Kamara, Chris Eagles, Darren Pratley, Chung-Yong Lee, and Jermaine Beckford
Bolton didn't get off to an ideal start with keeper Adam Bogdan fumbling an early cross from Kieran Trippier. This was followed by early Burnley pressure with the Clarets on top for the majority of the first half. The game was played at a lively high tempo with both teams trying to attack and play exciting football. Despite this, the first half was mainly spent in midfield battling for possession, neither keeper was properly tested with both defences handling with the pressure well.
Bolton fell behind first. After Charlie Austin's move to QPR was completed, Burnley would not have their talisman up front and were forced to look at other options. Danny Ings was the man groomed for the role but they instead found David Wheater. After a cross directed to Jermaine Beckford was intercepted, ex-Wigan midfielder Dave Jones put a route one hoof into Wanderers' box. This left Zat Knight in an aerial battle with Sam Vokes which he disappointingly lost out on. David Wheater was forced into a battle of pace with Danny Ings and the 21-year-old skipped past Wheater and slipped the ball across the box trying to pick out Sam Vokes. Unfortunately Wheater put in a last ditch tackle which deflected the ball beyond Bogdan and into the net. It was a horribly unlucky goal to concede but we defended it poorly, where Zat Knight arguably should have won the header. Our defensive leaks seem to have re-appeared.
After conceding, the Trotters battled on and threatened Tom Heaton's goal. Burnley held firm for a couple of minutes before their defence was breached by Darren Pratley. After nicely combining with Chris Eagles on the wing, Pratley timed his run perfectly and powered the ball into Tom Heaton's right hand corner from the penalty spot. It was a brilliant goal and thoroughly deserved for Pratley, who was excellent all match playing as a box to box midfielder. He was winning the ball and comfortably passing it round the park; he was my man of the match.
The defence was average at best with three of the four defenders being virtually new this season. The two new full backs, who blended in nicely with Alex Baptiste especially impressing going forward, were let down by the centre backs, both Zat Knight and David Wheater seeming shaky. Burnley played quite a direct game with many crosses and especially long balls, forcing the central defenders to scramble. Wheater seemed uncomfortable facing these with his back to goal, although it was his first competitive match for a while I was expecting better. Wanderers have not kept a clean sheet in our last 42 away games; this was reflected in the defending and has to improve for us to have any hope of promotion.
New signing Jermaine Beckford also failed to impress. Off the ball he showed good energy and movement trying to create chances but on the ball, he was poor. Countless times he was left with his back to goal in the wrong direction after a poor first touch, it wasn't a disastrous debut but ultimately one to forget for Beckford. We're all expecting big things from the 29-year-old. Tom Heaton in the Burnley goal was only properly tested once, when Craig Davies spun away from his mark and drilled a left foot shot into the top corner. It took an acrobatic save from the ex-Manchester United keeper to parry it over the bar, this gave the 2,477 travelling Bolton fans who made the short 25 mile trip something to get excited about.
Medo Kamara also impressed in midfield keeping the defence and Bogdan was relatively safe. Keith Andrews, while invisible at times, was very composed on the ball and did a good job at picking out passes and linking up play. When fully fit, I believe that we have the strongest midfield in the league with plenty of depth there. Apart from all these positives Chris Eagles picked up an ankle knock after Dave Jones followed through reached for a ball that fell out of his grasp. Eagles was taken off in the second half after rolling the same ankle. After the match, Freedman said Eagles was "fine" and that the substitution was precautionary. Hopefully it isn't too bad. Many believe that his fitness is essential for our success this year.
Overall this isn't a bad result. The game was very even with most of it having been battled out in midfield. Defensively we looked ok; the full backs adapted well, covering for the central defenders. Our midfield impressed but Beckford didn't. We've improved on last seasons' defeat and can take a lot of positives out of the match; things could have gone a lot worse. It's a solid platform to build on and leads us nicely into our next match next Saturday against Reading.
With one down and only 45 more to go, has this result changed your view on our credentials this season?