Seconds Away From heaven..
That's what Bolton were. Seconds away from doing the double over Manchester United. Seconds away from gaining valuable three points. Seconds away, just like they were the week before. And, just like the week before, they let it slip away..
Not that anything should detract from praising the performance. Bolton were magnificent, from front to back. JayJay Okocha made supposedly the best midfield in Britain look like monkeys. Debutant Florent Laville started beside stager Gudni Bergsson and didn't give Van Nistelrooy a sniff of the goal. Ricardo Garnder ran at supposedly roughly 80 million quids worth of defense and they backed off him like schoolboys. It was stupendously entertaining to watch. But oh so cruel at the end, because a win was surely justified.
In reality of course Manchester United contributed to their own problems. They were shakey at the back from the off and Bolton should have had a penalty in the first half when O'Shae manhandled Ivan Campo to the ground inside the area with only 10 minutes played, Campo scrambling to his feet only to fire a shot over the bar. Veron was frankly a waste of space in midfield, his tackling non-existent and his passing wayward. Djorkaeff forced a great save out of Barthez from a free kick after Gardner wriggled away from Beckham and Keane only to be fouled. On the first half Bolton were obviously the better side, and only the skill of Barthez and some poor shooting kept United in the game at all.
At half time Sir Alex was obviously throwing footwear around with gusto, because United made a better show. Luck failed to go Bolton's way also, with Pedersen taken off with what turned out to be a dislocated shoulder after Barthez saved at his feet and he tumbled over. But maybe they got a good turn too - an innocuous challenge by Gary Neville earned Bolton a free kick out on the left wing and Djorkaeff curlkd a high cross in. Barthez tried to get through a crowd to the ball but failed and it deflected off Bruno N'Gotty to crawl over the line. Bolton had the lead and United had only had one shot on goal all game - a low skidding shot from Keane after good play that Jaaskelainen dropped on. JayJay flummoxed Rio '30 million pounds' Ferdinand with a step over and shot that brought another world class save from Barthez, who was all that was standing between United and a drubbing. It was better than even the most optimistic Wanderers fan could have imagined.
On 80 minutes Veron was put out of United's misery as Nicky Butt came on and his extra energy allowed United their first period of sustained pressure in the game. With barely seconds (I think roughly 10 seconds) left of the 90 minutes, Gardner played a poor pass that was intercepted by Keane who played a ball over the back line which Beckham chased after. His low cross was pounced on by Solskjaer at the near post to score. Beckham had been borderline offside (giveable, but also reasonable to say onside) but Solksjaer had come bacck from an offside position earlier in the move. Nevertheless, with seconds to go Bolton should have defended better, and hopefully Gardner will know to play a ball into the far penalty area with seconds to go at 1-0 up rather than a short pass..
So Bolton had essentially dropped two points for the second week running, despite being 1-0 up with almost no time to play. Four extra points vital to Premiership survival. Allardyce was apopleptic, five yards onto the pitch and screaming in rage, with the fourth official too scared to get him off the field of play. However, despite the disappointment it must be remembered that Bolton have taken four points off one of the best teams in Europe and more than held their own. In fact, in this game they were measurably the better side. With Okocha and Gardner playing with great skill and confidence and the defense looking very solid with newcomer Laville outstanding, maybe those precious points will come when we play teams that aren't in the final phase of the Champions League..