The build up to Bolton Wanderers’ trip to Cardiff City on Tuesday night was dominated by Gary Madine facing his former club, so his absence through a ‘broken nose’ understandably gave some travelling supporters hope. But ironically, despite the big man not playing, Wanderers found themselves vulnerable to the hosts’ dominance in aerial battles.
Phil Parkinson made three changes to the side that started at the weekend against Fulham, with Adam Le Fondre earning a start ahead of Zach Clough and, more surprisingly, Reece Burke and Filipe Morais coming in for David Wheater and Mark Little.
The hosts went without new signing Madine, with Kenneth Zohore taking his lead role up top. And Wanderers seemed to struggle with the opponents’ physicality from the off, with Ben Alnwick pulling off a great save to prevent the dangerous Sean Morrison after some weak defending of a long throw.
Alnwick was at it again minutes later as he prevented Yanic Wildschut’s low shot with a good low save with his back leg, after yet more lax defending let the winger in between the two centre halves.
But Cardiff soon grabbed the lead that their dominance deserved, from another long throw into the box. Bolton again failed to defend it, the ball fell to left-back Armand Traore and he scooped it into the far corner with almost comic ease. It was a really poor piece of defending.
The hosts continued to push and could have doubled their lead had it not been for Alnwick, who did well to get off his line and snub out a possible chance for the completely unmarked Sean Morrison. Then they probably should have been two up as Callum Paterson managed to steer his shot wide of the far post following a good counter attack.
But the second goal wasn’t too far away. Joe Ralls curled an inviting free-kick into the box, Morrison was somehow able to get an unchallenged header at goal from six yards out, put it straight at Alnwick who was unable to hold it and Morrison nodded the follow-up back into the net.
I’ve seen a few Wanderers fans slagging off Alnwick on social media today. And if you’re one of them then, well, you’re an idiot. Alnwick was getting zero help from his defenders and made several saves just to keep the deficit respectable. Cardiff’s second goal was testament to how bad our defending of set-plays was, and Morrison’s finish was as easy as it gets at this level.
Burke was hooked at half-time for Wheater, and Bolton generally looked a little more solid in the second half. However, Cardiff could and should have had a third as Bruno Manga smashed a header against the bar from - yep, you guessed it - a set-piece that saw him totally unmarked at the back post. Then Alnwick made a fingertip save to deny Junior Hoilett’s fizzing drive after yet more woeful Bolton defending of a simple hoof into the box.
Frankly, if Madine had played then he would have scored a hatful, so it’s lucky he didn’t.
The ‘highlights’ on Wanderers’ YouTube account didn’t show a single Bolton chance, which tells you everything you need to know. So I think the quicker this match is forgotten, the better.
But realistically trips to teams chasing promotion are not going to decide our fate this season. So onwards and upwards we go, bring on Queens Park Rangers away on Saturday.