Tennis balls, dodgy banners, big protests and crap football. What a fixture for Monday night on Sky sports. I’m glad then that coverage was largely focused around the 2-4 thousand strong protesters outside of the club and the on-goings during the game. The fans certainly made their voices heard and the scrutiny now on them from the wider football community can hopefully hasten their departure. Wanderers went into this fixture having won once in the league since September. West Brom hadn’t won in 4 but even so this was very much billed as David vs Goliath pre match. Admittedly, I wasn’t overly optimistic but strange things can always happen in football and I thought that the protest atmosphere and a rainy night in Bolton might give us a bit of an advantage.
Things didn’t start that badly, well for the first 20 minutes. We pressed West Brom well while also keeping them largely at arms length and Gary O’Neill, who gave a standout performance on his return, had a great chance but flicked his diving header across the face of goal. All it took was a silly challenge from the otherwise solid Jason Lowe, to provide Chris Brunt with the opportunity to whip a ball in from the outside of the box. Craig Dawson headed back across goal and Jay Rodrigeuz was there to nod home from a yard out. It was a very soft goal to concede, considering we’re a team that’s set up to defend. We didn’t let our heads drop though and pushed our way back into the game, with Ameobi showing his customary flashes of brilliance. I am just constantly left frustrated by Sammy; he is our best player but he just doesn’t look arsed half the time. He had what was probably our best chance of the game just after half hour, some good football found him outside the box and he whipped a shot at Johnstone that required a excellent save to tip over. After that I thought he fell out of the game and probably should have been taken off instead of Murphy. The atmosphere in the ground was buzzing and tension was clearly creeping onto the pitch as players had niggles with each other and challenges went in hard. The most entertaining part of that half though was watching the East Lower try to get a banner up to the upper tier. Ugly scenes unfortunately marred this protest as stewards intervened to try and seemingly confiscate the banner, with the police eventually stepping in to try and calm the situation down.
I was optimistic that we would be able to keep up the momentum we had built throughout the first half and was confident that with a few changes, we could definitely get something against a West Brom defence that hadn’t had much work to do. Aside from a good bit of pressure after kick off, Jason Lowe forcing a smart save out of Sam Johnstone on the half volley, we were largely flat throughout most of the second half. Parky consistently frustrates me with his substitutions and team selections; Donaldson up top as our lone frontman wasn’t working from minute 1 so why he waited until the 70th minute to introduce Magennis, I don’t know. We were crying out for some freshness in attack, the players got into good positions but seemed bereft of ideas in the final 3rd, this problem is compounded by the fact we’ve only scored 18 times overall, the lowest in the Football League. All of this is made more annoying by the fact that very few teams have played us off the park this season, aside from the drubbing we got off Sheffield Utd. I cannot question the competitive attitude and work ethic of our players but we’re sorely lacking quality and Parkinson refuses to change anything until it’s too late. We huffed and puffed in the second half but never really looked like we were going to cause West Brom any problems and all it took was a lapse in concentration from Hobbs to gift Sam Fields with an easy chance to break our resolve. At that point 2-0 was game over and a free header for Magennis from a good delivery by O’Neill was all we had to offer in the closing stages. The one bright spark of our second half was the performance of Pritchard off the bench, he looked assured on his debut and if our financial woes continue we might get to see him play a bit more this season.
Overall, it was a poor performance against a team that have their vulnerabilities. I would have liked to see a braver line up from Parkinson at home because we are dying for a bit of creativity in the final 3rd and can’t keep relying solely on Ameobi. That lack of attacking presence is made worse in my eyes by the fact that Oztumer is playing for our Under 23s and can’t seem to get a look in, with Gary O’Neill preferred in that position behind the striker last night. Friday night’s game looks set to be an unnecessary distraction for the players ahead of the must win match against Reading next Tuesday.
Although it would be great if we could beat Bristol and get a big team and a nice little earner at the Unibol, I would like to see Parkinson change things up with his team selection.
Hopefully last night’s protests spark a turning point in the fortunes of this once great club because relegation or not, we need stability at board level in order to build a team that is competitive and worthy of getting us back to the Premier League.