Tuesday night I watched Bolton lose, a sentence I have sadly said more times than the opposite. I sat in the comfort of my own home and watched us concede two soft first half goals, I watched Samuel Saiz go through Gary O’Neill like the proverbial hot knife countless times and I actually watched us put up a solid fight. Written off already before kick off, Parkinson made wholesale changes to a side that drew 2-2 at the weekend, with 10 changes overall and 3 debuts. Leeds also made significant changes but played some first teamers and was the much-favoured side at home. Bolton showed that they weren’t about to roll over however and I thought we pushed Leeds the whole way and did the travelling faithful justice.
Leeds are good, but is this the real deal?
Bielsa, the genius, has come in and been a revelation, Leeds are already pulling up trees in this division and with this win over us he became the first Leeds manager since 1967, Jimmy Armfield, to win all three of his opening matches. Their energy and dynamism, to win back possession and break quickly throughout the whole game was mightily impressive. But as with all of Marcelo Bielsa’s teams, questions will be asked until they’ve won it all, as his methods can often burn players out over the course of a full season. I think they will do very well this year and I hope for footballs sake that he can take this Leeds team back to the Premier League, if not just for him to be there upsetting the likes of Pep and Klopp. They did have their moments against us were they let us back into the game and were it not for Grounds horrible miss, the end of the game might not have been as comfortable for them. I thought they responded well to conceding and limited us in the later stages but it wasn’t the predicted walk over by any stretch.
ALF has left us, we need a new striker
I wish I was writing here about the career defining performance Connor Hall just gave, a hat-trick and 90minutes of running Pontus Jansson and Luke Ayling ragged. Unfortunately while Hall worked hard and chased everything he was largely marked out of the game, though it was always going to be a big ask of him up top alone against those two. Instead of this, us as fans found out halfway through the first half, as we were losing 2-0, that ALF was leaving the club for a ‘’life-changing offer’’ abroad. There are rumours abound that he’s off to Sydney on a three-year deal, which really if true, who can blame him? He’s 31, doesn’t score a great deal and while he is a fan favourite; he clearly isn’t in Parkinson’s plans. If he isn’t going to give him first team football and moving him on frees us up to get someone better in, then the move makes sense. I just hope now that we can get a decent option in with, hopefully, a bit of pace as it’s the only area we’re really lacking in up front. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hall sent out on loan either, I think the experience he could gain in the lower leagues would be better than the occasional 10/15mins at the end of a game.
Oztumer is the real deal
I was excited when we signed Oztumer. I didn’t really know much about him but Bolton signing anyone dubbed as a particular countries ‘’Messi’’ is a big deal as, let’s face it, we’ve not really been known for our footballing style these past few years. Then you watch a few videos on Youtube and you see him smashing goals in on boggy pitches in the lower leagues and you start to think that we might have got a right steal here. It certainly looked that way against Leeds, a real player who we could actually be the creative outlet for us that we have been craving for a long time. Good composure and passing when on the ball, showed strength that belied his height (Turkish Messi) and then took his goal very well, first time into the bottom corner past Blackman. I’d like to see him in that position behind the striker more often, playing off Magennis with Vela and Lowe holding things and running on in midfield.
Second string not bad
Considering we made wholesale changes, the team looked surprisingly comfortable playing together. Watching the game you wouldn’t have guessed that Little, Hobbs, Wilson and Grounds had never played together before. Hobbs and Wilson actually passed it out from the back at times and with Hobbs in particular looking like a very savvy addition that could easily challenge for a first team place, if he can stay fit. Little did all the things we expect of him and Grounds got forward surprisingly well but would have been disappointed with his miss in the second half. Wildschutt was a constant threat with his direct running and Donaldson put in the sort of shift you’d expect from a Parky signing and did ok in an unfamiliar position, though he was wasteful at times in possession. The only weak link was that of Gary O’Neill in CM, was ran around the park by Leeds at times and doesn’t have the legs for 90minutes. He’s a good option off the bench when you’re shoring the game up but not a starting central midfielder anymore.
Parkinson is happy with the team and focussed on the task ahead
Even after Alfie’s shock departure and the loss at Leeds, Parkinson seemed happy with his team’s performance and confident going into this weekend away at Reading. It is always nice to hear of a manager having a ‘’selection dilemma’’ for upcoming games and clearly he is happy with his squad and believes in the players at the club and vice-versa. As he said in his post match he is hopeful for us getting another player or two in, especially now ALF has gone, and overall was respectful of his Alfie’s decision to move on. I think that in Phil Parkinson we have one of the best managers in this division, level headed and pragmatic which is perfect for a club in our current position. He has achieved a great deal with us against the odds and with very little money, so to hear him talk so positively is a welcome change and a great sign for us going forward.
We may not have won this one but we weren’t expected to do much against this Leeds side anyway. I can’t say I’m disappointed with us being out of the cup, it is one less game in a busy schedule going forwards and this season the league has to take priority. Parkinson knows this and used this match well as a good opportunity to get match fitness and a good look at some of our new signings. We’ve got to take the positives from that second half into the weekend’s away match against Reading, with a couple of more signings maybe coming in before then, hopefully we can come away with a better result.