Bolton Wanderers 0
Dale team: Russell, Wiseman (Ramsden), McArdle, Stanton, Kennedy, Buckley, Keltie, Jones, Rundle, Shaw, le Fondre (Dagnall)
The heavy, greying clouds over Spotland Stadium threatened to break out into torrential rain, but never did; the heavy, greying figure of Kevin Davies threatened to break into a sweat, but never did. If Bolton Wanderers avoid relegation from the Premier League this season then I’ll gladly proclaim Gary Megson the King of the Universe.
Arriving at the ground at around 7.10, it looked another poor attendance. Only 1020 fans appeared at Tuesday night’s home friendly against Stockport County, and it looked as if not many more were here tonight. Gradually the arena filled out a little, but it still looked not much more than a normal home league fixture would attract. Clear indication of both the credit crunch effect and people’s indifference to £12 friendly football. A couple of seasons ago, this fixture might have cost £8 and we’d have had 4000 in – not in today’s world.
Looking out onto the pitch I recognised a few faces of the Bolton team, but not too many. Of course I recognised all of our players; apart from a dark-haired goalkeeper and a ginger-haired outfielder (neither played a part in the match).
The teams came out and most Dale fans would have been pleased with the side Bolton put out; some youth, but mostly first-teamers – Matty Taylor, Kevin Davies, Andy O’Brien, Ali Al-Habsi, the excellent Kevin Nolan, Gary Cahill all started the match and lasted forty-five minutes. Dale started with new signings Keltie, Shaw and Wiseman; the rest were what you’d expect to see on the opening day of the season, except Le Fondre for Dagnall and Buckley for Higgy (more on that later).
The first five minutes of the match provided more entertainment than the whole of Tuesday night’s match (which was so dull I haven’t even bothered to write a report for it). Wanderers were playing a typically counter-attack minded formation which relies on absorbing pressure and playing off the intelligent balls of Nolan and Taylor – it might have worked if they’d have had any kind of decent strikers on. Rochdale pressed forward, supplying most of the forward play, with full-backs Wiseman and Kennedy getting forward with particular gusto.
Shaw had a shot four feet wide or so after about 15 minutes, but Bolton’s Kevin Nolan had the best chance of the half when he lobbed Sammy Russell, only for Rory McArdle to clear off the line. The resulting shot from Matty Taylor was saved by the feet of Russell and out for a throw in – the first time in the match that Bolton’s class began to show. Fortunately for us it petered out after this, and the Wanderers had no more chances of note before the half-time whistle.
Shaw later had another effort after some classy play from Clark Keltie; the midfielder dummied his way past two Bolton defenders before slotting the ball through to Shaw whose excellent first touch gave him a chance to shoot. Unfortunately, it was a difficult position, and Shaw couldn’t quite get over the ball, leaving Al-Habsi to watch the ball miss the post by about a foot.
Adam Rundle was having a great game on the left wing, and went on a Paddy McCourt style run after around 35 minutes; he beat three men before he cross/shot was saved clumsily by Ali Al-Habsi. Will Buckley was again having a decent game on the opposite wing, but his final delivery was sometimes lacking. “Will, we’re looking for that final product” bellowed Keith Hill from the touchlines.
The Bolton crowd wasted no time in showing us how big they are by cheering sarcastically whenever a ball disappeared over the stands and into the trees. I’ve been to the Reebok and let me tell you it has all the atmosphere of a dead frog. I bet secretly some of the visiting fans yearn for the times when away days to Spotland, Gigg Lane and Turf Moor were a regular occurence and winning a league was a real possibility. I’d rather be where we are, with a real chance of promotion than in the Barclay’s Premier All-Star League where the top four places have been decided before a single match has been played.
I used to know a Bolton fan in the Sam Allardyce days and he was convinced every year that they would go down, perhaps out of hope more than anything. The Wanderers’ chants of “We only hate Man United” struck a chord with me, knowing that Man United don’t give a toss about Bolton (memories of “We only hate Bolton Wanderers” at Gigg Lane were brought back, proof that hatred doesn’t need an enemy).
But I digress. An enjoyable, exciting first half ended and an almost entirely different Bolton eleven appeared for the second half. A vastly more willing eleven if this performance was anything to go by. Chris Dagnall came on for Adam le Fondre, but other than that the Dale side remained unchanged.
The rain had started to fall at this point, and Bolton started to play. They were a lot more progressive in the second half, the youthful pace of Bolton’s reserves tearing us apart on occasion (although Stanton and McArdle performed admirably). Still, we were creating chances, and Dagnall missed the most glorious opportunity of the match when one-on-one against Jussi Jaaskelainen. The veteran Finn guessed correctly and smothered Dagnall’s shot, and Chris knew he’d probably wasted his best chance of the match.
The second half was a lot more even than the first in terms of chances; Ricardo Vaz Te was constantly a threat (as he should be) against Wiseman, later Ramsden, and the Bolton forward (number 22) would have probably scored if he’d had more nous. Dagnall was creating many problems for the Wanderers defence and on another day might have scored one of his efforts.
Overall, a pleasing day. Attendance-wise, it was not a successful match. Reports of trouble in Rochdale before and after the game weren’t exactly encouraging. But on the field, where football is played lest we forget, we were excellent, and on this showing we will beat the majority of sides who visit Spotland this year.