Date: 14th April 2009 at 12:24pm
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Played eight, won none, drawn none, lost eight. Bolton`s record against the top four clubs this season makes for grim reading. For Wanderers fans, who had grown accustomed to troubling the big boys, it is one of the more depressing statistics of Gary Megson`s tenure.

Sam Allardyce`s record is this respect is somewhat overstated. There were nine victories in 48 games against the leading clubs, with some thumpings along the way, but there were also moments to savour.

The Whites beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and Manchester United at Old Trafford twice on the bounce. At the Reebok, Rafa Benitez sulked ungraciously after Liverpool had been despatched and making Arsenal cry was always great fun. Those performances seem a long time ago.

The theory put forward by some, is that United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are so far ahead of the rest that it is impossible to compete. Results this season don`t bear that out. Those four clubs have lost sixteen games between them this season. Nine of those reverses have been against clubs from outside of the elite. Fulham, Spurs, Middlesbrough, Hull, Stoke, Manchester City and Aston Villa have all recorded victories against supposedly unbeatable teams. So why can`t Bolton do it anymore?

Part of the reason is a lack of flair. Jay Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo and El Hadji Diouf, weren`t dependable, but they could produce moments of magic that were the difference between a draw and a win. Think of Diouf tying Sol Campbell in knots, before crossing for Stelios to score, or Campo`s sublime pass for Nicolas Anelka to finish off Arsenal.

More important though, was the organisation in midfield. Sam Allardyce`s teams defended deep. The opposition was allowed possession in areas where they couldn`t threaten, but were given little space in the final third. The contrast these days is stark. That vital ten yard area in front of the penalty box is frequently a Wanderer-free zone. Put simply, the midfield doesn`t protect the defence.

Gavin McCann is an effective ball winner, but is let down by poor passing and a lack of pace and mobility, Fabrice Muamba is all too often bypassed and while Matt Taylor undoubtedly has end-product going forward, he is poor defensively. Individual weaknesses aside, the crucial difference between Bolton now and three years ago, is that Allardyce`s players knew what to expect from each other. Megson`s charges look as if they`ve met in the pub half an hour before the game.

Of course points count the same, whether they`re won against the leading outfits or the lesser lights, but a win against an accomplished side always gives a boost to morale, both for players and fans. As long as Gary Megson fails to develop a desire, and an effective strategy for combating the better teams, those heartening victories will continue to be a thing of the past.

 

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