Bolton win fails to disguise unrest as tougher tests lie ahead

WE always end up talking about the manager, even when it’s the players’ fault.

There’s a simple solution of course; “stop obsessing about him, then” and the team certainly gave us ample distraction during the Villa match.

There was something reckless and ill-tempered about them all night. Since the game of football now virtually belongs to the media muckrakers, you can be sure all surfaces will be scratched to see what nastiness lies beneath.

If there’s nothing there, make something up.

When Rafa made his remark about “senior professionals”, fierce debate broke out over who he meant, what he meant and whether he should be saying such things at all.

He is the inevitable outcome of our woeful ‘Spice Boy’ era. When Houllier arrived and hinted that the tail would no longer wag the dog, he was met with a wave of relief and euphoria that has only intensified under the new regime, to the point where you begin to think the players are utterly irrelevant.

And yes sometimes you think that Rafa wishes he was 50 feet tall so he could forcibly grab these superstars and say “you go here, you go there and you stay there” like chess pieces come to life.

When things go wrong and the human element rears its ugly misshapen head you wonder if he has every component necessary to make us champions. Man management was never his forte.

By Friday of course things had been manipulated to focus on Gerrard alone, for maximum mischief and dreary ‘Collision Course’ headlines. There was ambivalence within the support, because the player certainly lost his head against Villa. He’d got away with one stupid tackle seconds before gifting the decisive penalty, and had been lackadaisical all night.

It was surely the manager’s job to tell him so. And yet… Was this biting the hand that has fed us so often for so long? Or a teensy weensy nip at the fingertips? Saturday did not by itself erase all consternation, although huge relief was provided by a winning goal against opposition for whom the word ‘foul’ (in all its meanings) was invented.

Something happens to anyone entering the Reebok, some peculiar time travelling black hole occurs where modern niceties don’t apply. It particularly afflicts referees who invariably apply Minnows Rules and let far too much go.

It’s just up the road so as an away fan you dither between the delight and inconvenience of their long overdue relegation. Megson had the nerve to claim Bolton must lose their naivety after one fragment of their relentless cynicism was finally punished.

Their what? Whatever naivety they possessed was smothered, bagged and thrown in a canal long ago.

The crowd has a synchronised ‘cheat’ chant that emerges from the primordial ooze every few minutes. Beating them should not be cause for rejoicing, but you always feel like Indiana Jones escaping the temple of doom relatively unscathed.

There was more carelessness in our play, and the ease with which our captain was marked out of the game in the first hour will cause sleepless nights if other teams choose to copy the tactic. Mascherano’s mind was elsewhere, and paranoia gripped me after one particularly casual pass to a white shirt. I apologise to anyone in close proximity for the language. Fifty years old and still no sign of the serenity that September brings. It just felt like he’d been to Lescott School, and it was no surprise he was dragged off instead of Lucas who is still a divisive figure, Alonso’s shadow ever looming. Even though he got someone sent off, he has a lot to learn. Xabi would roll up in a ball, clutching his ankle as if fearing it had been hacked clean through.

Nice but dim Lucas leapt up and chased after the referee demanding a card, a heinous crime apparently in the land that time forgot. Unbelievably the booing of the referee came from the home stands all afternoon, intensified by a sense of injustice that was comically overplayed. Kevin Davies carried on elbowing regardless, and he was not alone.

By now Torres had equalised, and the captain’s winner soon followed. Maybe Rafa has some man-management magic after all? Kyrgiakos had survived his debut with few scars and, one or two complacent moments notwithstanding, few scares.

As we always say on such occasions we won and that’s the main thing. The alternative did not bear thinking about. Sterner tests lie ahead; until we pass them, unease will linger. Maybe Aquilani will be ready by then?

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