Bolton. It would have to be Bolton. There’s something so stolidly lower premiership about them. If you want to come back to earth quick, come to Bolton.
After Moyes, I have to confess to another soft spot. I am and always will be a Tottenham supporter – but there is one other team that does melt my heart a little bit and that team is Clydebank FC (I like Celtic too but hey – artistic licence, right?). You can stick your (Partick) Thistle up your arse – although I wouldn’t recommend it.
Owen Coyle was one of the players I remember most from my hours spent on the school benches of Kilbowie – Britain’s first all-seater stadium. He had a better than one in two goal ratio for the Bankies. They barely scraped 1000 people most games, but they were born entertainers. Keep the ball on the ground and play football. One season they got to the semi finals of the Scottish Cup, and they managed to stay three years in the Premier League. Ok, it was Scottish football, but Scottish football was ok back then. You might remember them because they were briefly sponsored by Wet Wet Wet. I remember being horrified by this at the time. After that it was inevitable they would go into administration although in recent years they have risen, phoenix style as a junior (non-league) club. I’ve got to go see them some time (Clydebank, not Marti Pellow).
I am pretty sure it must be the Bankie in him (Coyle, not Pellow) that has seen fit to transform Bolton. Either that or it is simply the Field of Dreams effect: If you sack Gary Megson, they will come. What’s clear to me is that most of the small Premiership teams – with the exception of West Ham – try to entertain these days.
If you aren’t ever going to win anything – if you aren’t even going to try to win anything – then all that’s left is to entertain. Blackburn are another exception. Why would you ever go to see Blackburn? I don’t care what Sam Allardyce says, they are dull. All they want to do is stay up. Of course, the hardcore will always go to see their team and I salute them for that, but they will not fill a premiership stadium. Perhaps in such an anti-competitive league, in such a gloomy economic climate, nothing will. But surely providing watchable fare is the only sensible way to go? Wigan, West Brom, Blackpool – they’ve all seen the light. Wolves aren’t as dull as people say. I’m glad to see this new Bolton emerging.
And not just because it pleases the football purist in me. It also gives us a better chance up there. We have a horrible record at Bolton in recent years. Apparently we’ve only lost one of our last nine against them, but we also haven’t beaten them in the top flight since 1996. Pre-Reebok. But Coyle is no mug. Whilst he likes to play football, that doesn’t mean he won’t use Kevin Davies as a battering ram target man. We haven’t been able to cope with Davies in the past. Whilst we are obviously the superior team, that doesn’t mean we can definitely cope with him now.
The key to challenging for the top four season after season has to be our away form. We got into the CL despite it last year, not because of it – it was the sixth best in the league. That was better than usual, as well. Against Inter, we won because we have pace, guile and skill going forward. But we also won because the whole team defended brilliantly. In particular, watching Modric and Huddlestone drop deep – allowing Inter into our half but not to the edge of the our penalty box – was a revelation. It reminded me of last season’s run in and the games against Chelsea and Arsenal. This is how we play against the top teams at home and it more or less seems to work these days, conceding of obligatory 80th minute goal apart. Surely this is the blueprint of how we also need to play against the less illustrious premiership lights away from home. Drop relatively deep, keep our shape and discipline – the rest should take care of itself now. This isn’t negative – it’s about strangling them when they are in possession so that we can apply more pressure ourselves when on the ball. If you’re the better team, the challenge is to give yourself the platform from which to prove it.
I’d be tempted to rest VDV (if he is even fit) and go with our second half team against Inter – JJ deserves a chance, perhaps stick Pav in there too. It’s time to push on in this league and we have three very winnable games coming up before a double header against Arsenal and Werder Bremen. After these five fixtures we should have a much clearer view of where we are and what we can achieve this season.
I won’t be watching the Bolton game. I’ll be nearby though, at the ‘Liverpool Biennial’ art exhibition. Lady Oog, being European and cultured (hey – like Tottenham) loves the Venice Biennial and wants to check it out. I have explained to her that Liverpool is no Venice. Then again Bolton is no Milan. If we go to the north-west with the right attitude, we’ll come away happy.