After three consecutive victories on the road, Bolton reverted to type by going down to a crushing defeat at Aston Villa after a second half display of stunning ineptitude. Villa are a competent side, fully deserving of their place in the top four, but they aren`t world beaters. Gary Megson`s team just made them appear to be.
Yet there was little sign of the things to come in the opening sector of the game as the Whites went ahead after Johan Elmander had diverted Kevin Davies`s cross past Brad Friedel. The lead could have been two, minutes later when Gretar Steinsson headed against the bar. But the tone of what remained of the game was set on the 25 minute mark. Gabriel Agbonlahor`s equaliser was an accomplished piece of finishing and Martin Laursen`s ball over the top, pin-point accurate, but the Villa captain had the freedom of Birmingham in which to pick out his man.
Even then, Bolton could have regained the lead, but from a promising position in the penalty area, Matt Taylor sliced his shot high and wide, when a side-footed effort would have sufficed. As an attacking force, Bolton packed up tools after that and finished for the day.
The hosts went deservedly in front, five minutes from the break. Bolton have struggled to defend against crosses this season, but here they took that incompetence one step further with Kevin Davies heading into his own goal. Not that Villa fans went for their half-time refreshments happy. Inexplicably, referee Lee Probert failed to see Gary Cahill`s blatant handball and the Gloucestershire official left the field to some serious booing. What Cahill was trying to do hasn`t been established yet. Perhaps he was waving to his mum.
The second half wasn`t even a contest. Committing men forward in search of an equaliser and then giving the ball away repeatedly is never a profitable tactic, but when the opposition have a winger as quick as Ashley Young it`s suicidal. Villa`s £9 million signing had Matt Taylor and Gretar Steinsson to contend with on the left, but as neither of them can tackle it was straightforward to put in a cross from which Agbonlahor headed his second goal of the game.
Ten minutes later and Young himself was on the score sheet after his shot was deflected by the hapless Steinsson. The move started in the Villa half with Kevin Nolan surrendering possession and showing no inclination to remedy his mistake. Kevin Davies managed to put the ball in the correct goal four minutes from time which made the scoreline look flattering to Bolton. If the hosts had doubled their tally there could have been no complaints.
Gary Megson`s post match comments were on the money: ‘Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor are good players but we let them have the ball and didn’t close down enough. We were too easy to play against,` said the Ginger One.
Villa boss Martin O`Neill was understandably more cheerful, but he will know that his side will rarely face more accommodating opponents.
Jussi Jaaskelainen 6
No chance with any of the goals
Gretar Steinsson 5
Neat cross for Davies’s consolation goal. Pity he can’t defend.
Jlloyd Samuel 4
He was on the team sheet, but appeared to have gone Christmas shopping.
Kevin Nolan 4
His reaction to losing the ball at the start of the move that led to Villa’s fourth goal was more like Kevin the Teenager. Harry Enfield would be proud. A captain’s performance. Not.
Gary Cahill 5
Looked good, but only in comparison to the blundering pillock next to him.
Andy O’Brien 3
The aforementioned blundering pillock. Low on confidence and error prone. The alternative is Danny Shittu. Scary isn’t it?
Matt Taylor 5
Anonymous, apart from when he missed that sitter.
Fabrice Muamba 3
A promising player on his day. This wasn’t one of them.
Kevin Davies 5
Good work for the opening goal but failed to close Villa’s midfield down.
Gavin McCann 5
An off day for the Badger.
Johan Elmander 7
The one class player in Bolton’s side.
Ricardo Gardner 5
Ran about a bit. Got the ball occasionally.
Ebi Smolarek 5
Mr Smell a Wreck has been on the bench for most of the season. He showed why.