Date: 17th January 2011 at 7:42pm
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(This article was written on Sunday. Due to the Vital Servers going down, it`s all a bit late.)

It seems strange, on today of all days, to write of what may be the most insipid performance that Bolton have put in this season, going beyond even the game at Burnley for lack of passion. On the day that the most passionate Bolton player ever passes away, it seems like a lack of respect for him to have a go at the team that represents the club he served with distinction. But, if anything summed Nat Lofthouse up it was honesty. So, let`s be honest.

The basic summation is that a Stoke team that are workmanlike but little else simply wanted it more. Stoke are a good, mid table team and it may seem like this shows a lack of respect for them but if we had been anywhere near the top of our game we would have succeeded in beating them again, like we usually do. The difference between them and us is simply that they wanted it more. And that was us in October and November. Somehow, since dumping all over Newcastle, with St Owen and Elmander winning, a malaise has fallen over the side. Some may put it down to the couple of injuries that Stuart Holden has suffered or the absence of Lee Chung-Yong, but barring the result against Blackburn, fuelled partially by a sense of injustice over the sending off of Mark Davies and a lack of grace from Sam Allardyce when Blackburn scored, there has been a general lack of “wanting it”.

Saturday`s game, as stated, was a case in point. Passes went astray, especially in a wind induced first half, where Fabrice Muamba looked like he had reverted back to the 2009 version. He, unfortunately, wasn`t the only one and when, half way through the game, the possession figure read 72%-28% in favour of the home team, you wondered where the statistician had got the 28% from. For a team that can still use the long ball when necessary, neither Elmander nor SuperKevinDavies seemed to be able to use their aerial presence to bother a Stoke defence that no longer includes former Boltonian Abdi Faye.

This being the Premier League, it doesn`t mean that there weren`t balls into the box but they hardly connected and balls were overhit into Begovic`s arms. When some commitment was shown, Sam Ricketts took both Etherington and the ball on the touchline, causing many nervous fantasy football managers so nervous minutes as the Stoke midfielder lay next to an advertising hoarding for a minute or two.

Jussi proved, in the game where he matched Joe Smith`s 492 appearances for the club, that he is one of the best by turning over Jones` point blank shot, although replays showed the striker was offside. But when the goal came it came, naturally, from a set piece. Tuncay took a corner, the ball bounced around, as is its want, before Higginbotham seeming to just hit the former United defender, hit Matty Taylor and then hit Jussi`s leg, taking it just over the line.

Nothing more of note happened in the first half and as I took a much needed cup of tea onto the veranda so that I could let off some steam at the woman upstairs who had been banging away at something for at least the last two hours, leading me to wonder whether I should complain or applaud, Le Tiss on Soccer Saturday said it may be better for us to be against the wind in the second half.

He was proved correct almost immediately. Ricketts crossed in from the right, only for Elmander to head wide and then Stuart Holden brought the best out of Begovic from a free kick on the edge of the area. It seemed that the Trotters were getting on top of the game slightly. Then, the 2009 Zat Knight model turned up. Tuncay released Etherington, who had about three yards to make up on the big defender, doing so with ease and causing Zat to bring him down for a definite penalty. All the fantasy managers glee at getting an assist turned to joy as Etherington picked himself up and put the ball to the left of Jussi, the big Finn getting a hand to it and pushing it onto a post but the ball rebounding back off it into the net.

Almost immediately, St Owen took Muamba off for Rodrigo and Taylor for Petrov. With Stoke sitting on their lead, this allowed both subs to take the game to the home side with Elmander bottling a one on one with Begovic and SuperKev headed wide. Amongst a spate of substitutions, Tamir Cohen coming on for a tired Stuart Holden and former Wanderer Jon Walters coming on for Kenwyne Jones, the 2009 Zat Knight tried to go all the way back and score an own goal, Jussi just making it back to clear. When the now famous black plastic bag wandered across the pitch, it summed the day up.

 

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