Blackpool, opportunistic and clever like the two ice-cream vans parked up on Sefton Lane, spoiled the anticipated party today. An unusual gamble from Bolton’s Dougie Freedman – giving no.17, Robert Hall his full debut – left the right of defence exposed and more than likely unsettled the back line which in the first half conceded two early goals.
It was a truly inauspicious beginning – one which only a high-spirited dreamer might think Bolton able to reverse. Two players excelled for Blackpool – Matt Phillips and Ludovic Sylvestre – and it was soft complacency that allowed both stars joyous and incredulous celebrations.
2-0 down. Where to go? Bolton appeared lacklustre, far from the balanced side that had orchestrated this final day cliffhanger. Some fans will credit Freedman for his 37th minute substitution which preceded the drama of injury time goals from Eagles (45+2) and C Davies (45+4) thus levelling matters at 2-2. I will not (I am four years older than DF and have a sure-hearted conviction). The refulgence of Eagles came from the middle – not his new-found position out on the wing (compounded following the introduction of Sordell).
Replacing Hall was a lesson not in tactical genius but how to deflate a young player actually gaining in confidence and starting to show beautiful ball control with his imperious left peg. It is possible that the roving menace of Davies and Sordell together – following the withdrawal of Hall – opened up the Blackpool defence, but I would counter this with the theory that Eagles simply raised his game, proved that he was the best player on the park when mindful of his own threat.
The second half, despite the hope and longing sequestered, proved to be a difficult affair. Sure, Medo still allowed Pratley to scamper forward. Chungy Lee hinted at mesmerizing runs of old. And Ream’s distribution was competent. But beyond the transient, intricate passing and the palatial, if belated brilliance of Eagles stood a team not quite hungry enough.
Their slumped shoulders and modest applause to the fans during the ‘lap of appreciation’ suggested disappointment and the hurtful knowledge of a further 12-month sabbatical from the Premiership, yet they must now begin the process of knowing how to boss the opposition. Anything less will leave them as also-rans.
I am optimistic. Tom Eaves has the look and touch of a broad-shouldered Cantona (his ‘two feet by the post’ shot signalling future audacity). Robert Hall has a whistling, sniper-like shot (and his positional sense will improve). Josh Vela and Stuart Holden – well, I needn’t be the town crier for these marvels. Three more players (GK, CH & a 30-goal-a-season striker) and a sprinkle of luck and we will be there, looking down on the pack in 2014.
* This piece was edited down to 400 words and published in The Bolton News on Mon, 6 May 2013