Gary Megson's starting XI during his time at Bolton Wanderers was tremendously predictable. The same was true of Owen Coyle, for the most part. There might have been one or two minor changes, but we knew what was coming every Saturday. That has not been the case under Dougie Freedman. Squad rotation is an understatement. Even during the good runs of form changes have been made just about every week. Our third round FA Cup match versus Blackpool FC was even more surprising than usual. Why? Because of three little numbers: 4-4-2.
When Dougie posted the team sheet yesterday every Bolton supporter I know (and many I don't) had a strong reaction. These reactions ranged from "Yes! Attack Attack Attack!" to "Hmmm, I hope we have enough defensively." to "That idiot Freedman finally got something right," and finally "#GartsideOut!" To be fair, the final expression is some people's reaction to everything that involves Bolton Wanderers in even the slightest degree. Overall though, most fans were pleased with the lineup to face Blackpool.
That lineup did not let Dougie Freedman, Phil Gartside, or the fans down in the first thirty minutes of the match. It was one way traffic as Wanderers laid siege on the away side's goal, dominating possession and letting fly with shot after shot. Zat Knight even played a good ball forward for Jermaine Beckford, who made good contact on a volley but was unable to keep it on target.
Bolton finally broke through at the ten-minute-mark. David Ngog received the ball about 45 yards from the Blackpool goal. He made a nice turn and ran hard at the defense, passing two Blackpool players and cutting into the center of the pitch. He hit a sweet shot with his left foot from 25 yards out and found the top corner. It was 1-0 Wanderers. It was Ngog's second goal in two matches, and it looked like playing the 4-4-2 had been a stroke of genius.
The home side continued to dominate for a further twenty minutes. At one point they had over 80% of possession and appeared to be toying with the Seasiders. Andre Moritz was masterfully pulling the strings and Medo Kamara was tackling anything that moved, as the Whites had complete control of the center of the park. But the question was; Could it last?
Answer; Of course not. We are the Mighty Bolton Wanderers. We never do anything the easy way. Blackpool's Tom Barkhuizen received the ball on the right and got way too much space from makeshift left back Tim Ream. He cut across the field and unleashed a shot from almost as far out as Ngog's had been for his goal. The score was level just before halftime.
The second half was summed up best by Dougie Freedman afterwards. "It was a good old-fashioned cup tie."
The action was end to end. Many chances were created. Blackpool had more of the ball than Bolton, but it is hard to say that either side was in control for any substantial length of time. In fact, it was during a spell of Blackpool pressure that Bolton managed a long clearance down their left side. Both strikers gave chase, with Ngog getting there first just inside the Blackpool 18-yard box. Ngog was strong, winning a shoulder challenge against his defender and forcing the keeper to charge him down. Once Matt Gilks committed, the Frenchmen squared the ball perfectly and his strike partner Beckford tapped it into an empty net for a beautiful Bolton lead.
Blackpool continued to pressure, and Andy Lonergan was very busy in goal. He made several good saves, including a spectacular denial of a header at very close range. At the other end of the pitch Chung-Yong Lee hit the post late on, causing several media outlets to erroneously report that Bolton had managed a third goal. But they didn't need it. The Trotters held on for a 2-1 win, a place in the next round of the FA Cup, and (hopefully) a good deal of confidence to bring into next week's league match.