Wednesday, 30 December 2009

20: Bolton Wanderers 2 - 2 Hull City - 29/12/2009

Disappointed with the prospect of a meagre point before the game, relieved to have snatched one after it. The single winnable game within a batch of no-brainers didn't produce three precious points but so abject was it until a rather incongruous fightback that getting a draw will do fine.

City were very poor. The weather was vile and so were the Tigers as Bolton took a half time lead, scored a very soft goal and seemed comfortable beyond all doubt. Bolton fans will point to the deeply unpopular withdrawal of Ivan Klasnić, scorer of the first goal, which reduced Bolton's natural attacking threat, but City can happily point out that their game upped itself in the final 20 minutes.

Phil Brown picked the same starting XI that began against Manchester United but the similarity ended right there. The lack of purposeful running, aimed passes and general creation of chances was obvious and worrying. The odd set-piece aside, little trouble was posed to last season's chief nemesis, Jussi Jaaskelainen, who had a quiet and cold evening on the whole. His outfield team-mates were in the ascendancy as the Tigers really fell backwards.

Matthew Taylor hit one shot on the volley after being given time to chest the ball down, but it sailed high over. Chung-Yong Lee then similarly fired over from a reasonable position and then swung in a free kick which Tamir Cohen nearly managed to touch home.

A Bolton counter attack then gave Fabrice Muamba an opportunity after Andy Dawson could only half clear an initial cross, but the snapshot went too high. The chances were all the home side's, and the inevitable goal came when Dawson could only get a mild clearance on a free kick and Klasnić controlled nicely before drilling a precise low shot past Boaz Myhill, of whom there were question marks about how quickly he got down.

Dawson was blameless and nearly got City back into it when George Boateng, putting in a phenomenal second shift in three days, won a free kick on the edge of the box which the left back swung on target around the wall but too close to Jaaskelainen, who double-fisted it away.

Jozy Altidore
then took a clearance down in space and played a through ball to Craig Fagan but he shanked his touch, an all too frequent occurrence, and Jaaskelainen smothered the chance. Stephen Hunt then headed goalwards from a Bernard Mendy cross but a deflection on the line took the ball out for a corner.

So the chances were coming, though few of them were absolutely clear, and Bolton re-established their authority and should have been further ahead when Gary Cahill aimed a completely free header wide from Cohen's corner, and took a boot in the face for his trouble. Kevin Davies, the most admirable target man in football, then won a less gilt-edged header from another Cohen corner and aimed it wide.

A minute was added for injuries and soon the half was over. Utterly abject stuff from the Tigers. So bad was it, and in a game marked up as such a good prospect for points, that Brown probably found himself 45 minutes from the sack.

Bolton had the first chance after the break when Taylor smashed a free kick high over Myhill's bar, but City began to exercise more authority on the match. Kamil Zayatte won Mendy's delivery and headed back to Boateng whose shot was ricocheted wide. Brown withdrew the out-of-sorts Altidore and slung on Nick Barmby, who parked himself on the right wing and allowed Fagan to work down the centre a little more. It worked better for Barmby than it did for Fagan as the lack of a burrowing centre forward was a worry.

Taylor shot a long way over from a Davies flick back before City made their first proper chance, courtesy of Fagan's persistence which earned a corner. Hunt swung it in and Zayatte had a free connection but didn't get enough meat on the ball, arrowing it a long way wide.

It was a big moment, especially as a Myhill clanger then earned Bolton their second goal. Paul Robinson chipped in a free kick from halfway and the City keeper inexplicably came to collect but was beaten by the head of Davies with some ease, and the lack of cover allowed the ball to trundle over the line. It was a thoroughly dreadful goal to concede and Myhill, a fine goalkeeper, needs to hold his gloved hands up.

City looked beaten for a while, and Fagan's workrate was not matched, as is often the case, by his finishing as he made room for a shot with some flamboyant dummies but then smashed it over. Brown threw on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and issued orders for the ball to be sent long.

Chaos reigned in Myhill's goalmouth from a free kick but the Tigers keeper eventually made a good save from Cahill's close range header and then watched yet another Taylor shot go too high. City needed to get back into this right away if any chance of rescuing a rotten situation was to come the Tigers' way. And that's what happened.

Hunt made the running on the left and gave Vennegoor of Hesselink possession on the edge of the box. The big Dutchman fed Fagan whose cross was headed in from a couple of yards out by the supporting Hunt. A chance had come at last. And it seemed it was enhanced further when Bolton manager Gary Megson withdrew the influential Klasnić for the more prosaic Gavin McCann, and the uppity home support made it clear what they felt about that decision.

As if buoyed by this change in atmosphere, City battered the Bolton goal. Anthony Gardner headed a chance at Jaaskelainen and Brown made his final change, bringing Geovanni into the action.

A corner could have earned City a penalty for handball, and eventually Barmby's overhead kick had the direction but not the power to beat Jaaskelainen. It seemed to be getting closer to parity and City certainly deserved it.

It finally came when Zayatte centred from deep, Vennegoor of Hesselink won the header and Hunt's shot was only helped in by Jaaskelainen, though Cahill's clearance meant the assistant referee had to give the goal. But a goal it was, a second for Hunt, and now just one team seemed odds on to win this one.

In actual fact, Bolton made the late chances with Davies getting a shot in after fighting off Zayatte and then Gretar Steinsson had a late drive deflected inches wide. City had one more go, courtesy of Barmby nodding back Dawson's cross for Vennegoor of Hesselink but, under pressure, he aimed his volley high over the bar.

So a 2-2 draw, a handy result considering the way City had to earn it, and although January looks almost entirely a non-starter, there needs to be hope and confidence in the way the Tigers approach the matches against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United - two of which are away from home - so that everyone is ready for the real deal that everyone has their eye on when Wolves come to the KC at the end of that month.

Bolton Wanderers: Jaaskelainen, Robinson, Cahill, Knight, Steinsson, Muamba, Taylor, Cohen, Lee, K.Davies, Klasnić (McCann 75). Subs not used: Al Habsi, Ricketts, O'Brien, R.Gardner, M.Davies, Elmander.

Hull City: Myhill, Mendy, Dawson, A.Gardner, Zayatte, Boateng, Hunt, Garcia (Vennegoor of Hesselink 64), Olofinjana (Geovanni 75), Fagan, Altidore (Barmby 54). Subs not used: Duke, Kilbane, Mouyokolo, Ghilas.