Phil Parkinson’s tactical naivety somehow managed not to cost Bolton too dearly as the Whites got themselves a point through a wonder strike from Adam Le Fondre but it was our desire that got us a result. Parky’s decision to switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 against Bristol City was a masterstroke but it was clear from the outset that it was the wrong call against a Fulham side with overlapping full-backs. Matt Target, the Cottagers goal scorer, and Ryan Fredericks were too often left alone and tore us to bits in the opening 20 minutes and we were very fortunate this didn’t prove too costly. The system worked against us, but the boys are fighters and once again gave everything for the cause, their passion earning us a very valuable point.
Wanderers’ line up had only one change from the win last Friday with Zach Clough replacing Tyler Walker up front alongside Sammy Ameobi. Fulham’s team sheet made for scary viewing as not only did their starting line up look strong, but their bench boasted the likes of Tom Cairney and Aleksandr Mitrovic. One can only dream of being able to call upon such talent. It was Fulham’s quality that shone early on as they were granted the freedom of the Macron. Stefan Johansen ran the midfield, Ryan Sessegnon looked dangerous and Fredericks bullied Antonee Robinson. Their dominance was rewarded after only 4 minutes. Sessegnon got free down the left and crossed for Lucas Piazon. The Brazilian dominated Robinson to set up Targett for an easy header to score. It was painfully simple and looked for all the world that it would start off a rout such was Wanderers’ ineptitude.
Fulham continued to press with Piazon easily getting past David Wheater for a one-on-one, only to shoot straight an Alnwick. The mistake they made, in my opinion, was that their players stayed down for a minute each time they were challenged. It was allowed by the clueless referee and served to anger the home support, but I think it also infuriated the players. Wanderers, of late, have shown real determination and since the Wolves mauling have kept themselves in every game they have played. They weren’t about to let Fulham dictate the pattern of the game and I’m certain there was an element of anger in the way they responded after 20 minutes. First to show this was Clough, to his credit, as he thundered into tackles and forced a good save out of Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal from range. Ameobi started to grow into the game and proved a real challenge for former Wanderer, Tim Ream, when running in behind for balls over the top.
It was one of these that brought the best chance of the half as Ameobi raced onto a clearance from Alnwick and fed Clough for a one-on-one. In days gone by you would have expected the net to ripple but the returning forward didn’t look confident and hit it straight down Bettinelli’s throat, wasting what looked a key opportunity. The Whites continued to work their way back into the game. The crowd got behind them, mixing their frustration with the referee, who also missed a push on Clough when he was diving to head in a Josh Vela cross, together with Fulham’s time wasting, to turn the Macron into a cauldron of noise. At half-time the game was finely poised and the fans applauded the home team, appreciating their effort, while roundly booing the officials.
The second half began slowly and turned on some early substitutions from both managers. Fulham’s advantage in using their full-backs hadn’t born fruit for some time in the game so Slavisa Jokanovic changed things up, bringing on Mitrovic and his lethal weapon, AK47 (Aboubakar Kamara). Almost instantly the change could have sealed the game for Fulham with Mitrovic setting up the onrushing Targett to cross from the left to an unmarked Kamara who somehow missed the ball. It was a golden chance but AK47 was misfiring somewhat. In response to the change Parky brought off Mark Little and Clough. Little, one of the standout performers of the season, had had a poor game by his standards and was replaced by Filipe Morais. Clough meanwhile was replaced by Le Fondre to add industry up front alongside the tireless Ameobi. He is often criticised for his negativity with regards to substitutions, but this was a very positive move from Parky, for which he deserves credit, and he was instantly rewarded in the most extraordinary way.
Adam Le Fondre deserves more chances in our team, all the fans think so. He is a natural finisher, he works hard and he loves the club. Therefore, when he latched onto a Robinson flicked header from a goal kick every Bolton supporter was hoping for something to finally go his way. My word it did. Alfie watched the ball go over his shoulder and lashed the ball with his weaker left foot over the top of Bettinelli into the top corner, scoring possibly the best goal I have ever seen live at the Macron. If anyone deserved to score a goal like that it was him and the celebrations were not only because of the quality and importance of the strike but because of who it was. Well done, ALF, you have earned that.
The goal lifted the whole stadium and for the next 15 minutes it was Bolton laying siege to Fulham’s goal. Ameobi, Vela and Le Fondre were linking up very nicely and after a spell of pressure, Karl Henry fired just over from a corner. Vela himself almost scored an identical goal to Le Fondre with an effort going just over from 25 yards out. Ameobi too was trying to get in on the act, despite looking obviously exhausted, jinking past two players before dragging a shot just wide. However, the introduction of the scorer of the Cottagers late equaliser in October, Tom Cairney, changed the game again. Fulham spent the last 15 minutes in the ascendancy with only a brilliant last-ditch challenge from Wheater denying Kamara after a great run into the box. It was a nervy spell, but the game-winning chance was still yet to come.
Johansen is a brilliant player and had been outstanding all game but when he picked up the ball on the left flank even he must have been surprised by the Maradona-esque run that followed. He ran from one side to the other, beating at least 3 Bolton players before finding himself one-on-one with Alnwick. Had he shot across the ‘keeper I am sure he would have scored, but he didn’t. The Norwegian shot low and hard to the near post, hitting it, and there was an audible, collective sigh around the ground. There were more nervy moments, Dorian Dervite denying Sessegnon at the death with a vital tackle, but Wanderers held on for a more than a merited share of the spoils.
As I have said, the tactics were wrong today and we were fortunate that we weren’t punished further. Fulham often had the freedom of the pitch as their full-backs helped their wingers to double up on our defence, something that was so blatant it was amazing that Parky didn’t change the formation. What got us something from the game, alongside a spectacular strike, was our desire. These players care so much it’s like they are fans and its great to finally see a side like this. We may not have any stars, we certainly have no money, but we do know that every time our boys step onto the pitch they will give everything. It’s nice to be proud of my team once again. COYWM