On Tuesday night, the withering, dying force that is Bolton Wanderers Football Club was wheeled out for its third game in seven days as non-league Eastleigh visited the Macron for an FA Cup third round replay. I've seen some matches in my time, but nothing could've prepared me for the Whites' performance.
As I sat down ahead of kick off with my chicken salad sandwich (Tesco's finest, highly recommended), I was greeted with the sight of Neil Lennon's team selection. Not a youth player in sight. Despite the likes of Kaiyne Woolery, Quade Taylor and Jamie Thomas knocking on the first team door in recent weeks, Lennon opted to play our actual first team, many of whom are not just looking tired, but on death's door. I finished my sandwich with an increasing amount of trepidation.
Mark Twattenburg, the bastard in black for the evening, got proceedings underway and for the first 10 minutes Wanderers piled on the pressure, ish. We genuinely looked like we couldn't be arsed, passing the ball around with no real conviction as though we were two or three goals to the good. It didn't take long for Eastleigh, who'd made their 240 mile trip that day, to capitalise on our lackadaisical first 10 minutes. The Spitfires' first attack, complete with some typical piss poor defending from us, allowed Joe Partington to fire home and put them in front. The away end erupted and I was fuming.
Having said that, to be fair to our lot, they stepped up their game after conceding. Although there were still players struggling to make any sort of impact (Dean Moxey and Mark Davies had the worst games I've ever seen them play in a white shirt), others were really doing their bit. I thought Darren Pratley was very good in midfield and Wellington Silva looked lively on the left. Gary Madine was making all the right runs but struggling to receive any sort of midfield support thanks to the aforementioned Davies' ghostly performance.
Thankfully, Madine's movement paid off in the 38th minute when a lovely ball in from Josh Vela allowed him to control using his chest, swivel and bang it home, echoing his winner against Blackburn last month. Thank fuck for that.
Shortly after Madine's equaliser, Wellington pushed Eastleigh keeper Ross Flitney to his limits with a curling 20-yard free kick. The keeper was up early, though, making a smart save to tip the ball onto the bar and out for a corner. The resulting set piece was played short and our little Brazilian whipped in a tasty ball, which was poorly cleared into the path of one Dean Moxey. He took a touch, steadied himself and produced a smart finish from the edge of the box, curling the ball low into the bottom corner. Flitney should've done better with it, but in fairness the shot came through a 15-man crowd. Phew. We were in front.
With Lennon & Co preparing their half time team talk based on us winning we were obviously destined to concede before the interval, and that happened as we edged into the first minute of added time. A neat passage of play inside Wanderers' half allowed Kaid Mohamed to latch onto a clever through ball, easily beating Rob Holding for pace, and slot home past the helpless Paul Rachubka. Bollocks. 2-2.
The turn of the half brought no changes for Wanderers, despite Liam Feeney and Darren Pratley both looking physically and mentally drained. Never before have I seen two players that look as though they're actually carrying the stresses and strains of an entire football club on their shoulders. Get them rested, for fuck's sake.
Feeney had a good chance to tee up Vela just after the break, but instead chose to go it alone which resulted in him hitting the side netting. If he'd looked up and pulled the ball back to the edge of the six yard box, Vela would've had a tap in. I've noticed Feeney doing this a few times in recent weeks - very worrying indeed. Another player who I was concerned about shortly after Feeney's balls up was our resident goal machine, Gary Madine. I have no idea what brought this on, but he ended up on the deck in a weird heap and had to be substituted with an apparent hamstring injury. Strange.
Thankfully, goal machine-less Wanderers were in front again on the hour mark after a lovely passage of play on the edge of the Eastleigh box. Mark Davies carried the ball from deep and sprayed it out wide to Wellington. The south American pocket rocket shifted inside from the left and found Darren Pratley, who played a cheeky one-two with Shola Ameobi (on in place of Madine) and slotted home with the prowess of an England international. Sort of.
After we got our noses in front the game fizzled out a bit, with chances few and far between. Ameobi went close on his final appearance for the club, but it was merely a task of preserving our lead rather than actively seeking to increase it once we had the game under control. Don't get me wrong, Eastleigh gave it their all and caused us a few problems, but the last 20 minutes weren't really too troublesome. Kaiyne Woolery replace Wellington Silva with five minutes to go and he looked pretty bright, so I hope he gets a run out from the off on Saturday.
My main concern about Tuesday night is our frankly embarrassing attitude to an important game in a competition that could generate us a fair bit of revenue in the next month or so. Despite this being an FA Cup replay against non-league opposition, we genuinely looked like we couldn't give a single flying fuck.. Whether it's our general fitness, the shit show our club is in at this moment both on and off the field or just a can't-be-bothered mentality in the dressing room, something needs to change. We seriously need an intervention at Bolton, because our current on-field mentality will not pull us out of the mire. Not at all.
With today's news that our non-playing staff will not be paid for the month of January, we are desperate for a win against MK Dons on Saturday. Will we get it? I'm genuinely not sure. Let's hope for a cup run, ey?