A long-suffering Sunderland-supporting friend told me recently, “I think I’ve been to The Hawthorns seven times and seen us pick up one draw, for f**ks sake, West Brom have never even been that good!” We all know the feeling, those teams that you never seem to get anything against despite what form each team is in. Of course, I am not counting when Bolton got continually thumped off the Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea team of the noughties, I’m talking about those teams that you SHOULD get something from, but trundle away empty handed every time.
I got the bogey team feeling on Friday. The pre-match chat painted a picture of a resilient Bolton team on a high following a hard fought win against promotion-chasing Villa, in contrast to a rudderless Leeds United team struggling for points following yet another underwhelming managerial change. Throw in the Trotters fans heading across the Pennines in force by selling out the away allocation, I should have been hopeful of at least a point in the survival bank. Except I wasn’t.
I couldn’t shake my thoughts away from Bolton failing to win in the six meetings since they dismantled Leeds 5-1 on their own patch in 2014. My fears were realised almost as soon as I had squeezed myself into the almost impossibly small seats at Elland Road. A hesitant Wanderers defence failed to effectively clear their lines and Caleb Ekuban pounced to fire Leeds ahead. Despite Bolton having some neat spells of possession and Alfie scoring an almost physics defying header, realistically a two or three goal winning margin would not have flattered Leeds.
“We’ve been rubbish since 2014, it’s a coincidence!”, I hear you cry. Certainly fitness issues with defensive leaders Wheater, Henry and Pratley contributed to Leeds exposing a soft underbelly that had mostly been eradicated since the opening weeks of the season, which obviously contributed to this most recent bogey team defeat. However it must run deeper.
For example, almost unbelievably, Bolton Wanderers have failed to register a league win against staple Championship jobbers Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town since 2001. To indulge my superstition further, when Bolton visited the City Ground in early December last year they were on a run of one defeat in five games (which was against high-flying Wolves), whilst Forest had lost three out of their last four. Yet, inevitably, Forest came out 3-2 winners.
Amongst the high turnover of managers and players, one of the few consistencies at a modern football club is the fans. We are cursed with long memories, many who sit at the Macron on a Saturday afternoon have little affection for Ipswich due to the memory of the Barry Knight-mare that we suffered on the 17th May 2000. This costed Bolton promotion to the Premier League and, for financial reasons, our jewels in the crown of Claus Jensen and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Combine our bad memories with the mounds of statistical footballing data for keyboard pundits, such as myself, to pore over and panic about the visit of our bogey teams, results in fans desiring the win over these bogey teams that little more desperately. Much like love, desperation and panic rarely increase the chances of attaining the victory over these bogey teams we desperately crave.
When leading 1-0 against Ipswich at the Macron in January, as the second half wore on and Wanderers sank further towards their own penalty area, desperation hung in the air like the smell of Lynx on a teenager’s first date. Whether the players feel this too is for speculation, though my speculation is that they are capable of reading, fretting and feeling like anyone of us. Inevitably, with eight minutes to go the real Bogeyman of the Championship appeared in the shape of David McGoldrick to cause havoc in the Wanderers penalty area, presenting a chance of Joe Garner to prod home. The hex lives on.
Back to the here and now, a budding bogey team in Birmingham City visit the Macron on Tuesday night, where Wanderers are winless in four against the Blues. Part of my theory of bogey teams is that they aren’t necessarily the most exciting teams to play against, in comparison to these big games against the giants such as Aston Villa.
One would imagine that players have no issue in finding that motivation to grind their way to a bonus victory against the big boys, and the Wanderers demonstrated this in front of the Sky Sports cameras last Saturday evening. Does a January visit of Ipswich Town really get the adrenaline flowing like facing off against John Terry? Yes they are professionals, but they are also human beings where the extra few per cent that adrenaline provides can be the sliver of difference on the matchday.
The recent positive results that Wanderers’ fellow relegation battlers, including Birmingham, have produced recently should deliver the vital adrenaline boost for the lads. However, we as fans must do our best to swallow the inevitable tension that comes with these key games and turn it into vociferous support for the lads, dispelling our personal superstitions and breaking the hex.
The Macron has provided the vital home comforts that the Wanderers need to maintain their vital Championship status, and tension cannot be allowed to creep in too early and choke the lads into a negative result. So get down to the Macron and carry the lads to a vital three points, since we don’t want to need a result against Nottingham Forest on the final day…