Bolton Wanderers 1 Yeovil Town 1
BLIND panic had gripped the Reebok as 90 minutes ticked by and Wanderers edged ever-closer to a defeat that really would have gone down as a watershed moment in the history books.
Yeovil – a side whose entire playing budget could quite easily be covered by two or three of Dougie Freedman’s ex-Premier League salaries – were on the verge of daylight robbery.
Fans, who had already been venting their anger towards chairman Phil Gartside and the board for most of the afternoon, were preparing themselves for another, quite warranted, verbal volley.
We were heading towards a result that would have ranked right up there alongside that 4-0 defeat at Scarborough some 26 years ago, often described as the moment that Bolton Wanderers hit rock bottom.
But in the 10-or-so minutes between Adam Bogdan’s incomprehensible error that gifted Ed Upson his goal and the moment Alex Baptiste stooped to nudge the ball over the line to equalise, we finally saw the kind of collective fight that could turn this season round yet.
How interesting that in Freedman’s desperate hour of need it was club skipper Zat Knight who kept the ball alive – illegally, Yeovil may claim – to hook a cross in for another defender, Matt Mills, to head against the bar and a full-back, Baptiste, to nudge home.
Had that kind of urgency been shown by Wanderers’ front line over the course of the day, such a frantic finale would never have been necessary.
Though raw teenager Rob Hall had done his level best to take the fight to Yeovil, seasoned Premier League pros like David Ngog, Jermaine Beckford, Chung-Yong Lee and Chris Eagles seemed to be choking on the pressure at the bottom of the Championship.
Few Whites fans would have been familiar with the work of Millwall’s Liam Feeney when he arrived on loan late on Thursday night, and yet after just one day’s training at Euxton, he produced a consistent supply of deliveries from out wide that more than matched anything we have seen this season.
Perhaps a lesson should be learned from Yeovil’s band of honest professionals who had defended so manfully all afternoon. Names have had their chance to get Wanderers back up the table, now it is time to give the right characters a go.
Medo Kamara picked fights all over the pitch, staying just the right side of referee Tony Harrington, while Jay Spearing played most of the second half with a six stitches above his eye, covered in bandages like a cartoon mummy.
New centre-half pairing Matt Mills and Tim Ream coped admirably with the few questions asked of them by the visitors and are also emerging as unlikely heroes in this piece.
Unfortunately for Freedman, however, Wanderers appear to have lost another grafter in Marc Tierney, who came off second best in a crunching tackle with Shane Duffy and has broken his foot.
With little cover on the left side of defence heading to Blackpool tomorrow night – Tom Ince and all – Tierney’s absence could present yet another major problem for Freedman, for whom such issues are really stacking up.
As a former striker himself, watching the chances that are currently falling by the wayside must be soul destroying.
Medo was unlucky to see his early shot bounce off the inside of the post, likewise Ngog was only denied an opening goal by a fine block from Duffy 20 minutes in.
But the early dominance gave way to nervousness, with no-one willing to step forward and take charge once the football had found its way into the penalty box.
Chung-Yong was perhaps the chief culprit, his link-up play so neat and incisive, but his final pass or shot just woefully lacking. That was certainly the case just before the break when a huge gap opened up on the edge of the box for him to shoot, only for his rather tame shot to be pushed aside by Wayne Hennessey.
Freedman described the first half as the most one-sided he had seen as player or coach. While Wanderers had the lion’s share, he rather neglected to mention the smart save made by Bogdan from Paddy Madden after Andy Williams had got round Batiste on the left.
Wanderers’ indecision in the final third continued into the second half prompting Freedman to send on Beckford and Feeney for Chung-Yong and Ngog.
And while Feeney’s contribution was impressive – surprisingly so – Beckford’s wastefulness in front of goal was just as bad as Ngog’s, if not worse.
Medo sent the former Leicester striker through on 68 minutes with a great pass from the back. Beckford did everything right but found Hennessey equal to his shot.
Wanderers were playing with 10 men at that point. The injured Tierney had been helped down the tunnel, replaced by Knight – to boos from around the stadium – and Spearing was still being stitched together in the dressing room.
Eagles then presented another chance for Beckford, curled agonisingly wide, the frustration building all the time around the stands.
Madden fired a warning shot across the boughs and Grant forced Bogdan into another smart save with a far post volley. It appeared that something had to give.
So when Bogdan chose that moment to allow Upson’s scuffed effort to dribble comically through his grasp and over the line, the Hungarian stopper looked as if he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.
Shocked expressions filed the Reebok as fans took in just what was happening.
Freedman scribbled down a note, passed from Beckford to Knight, who charged immediately up front as an emergency striker.
The next 10 minutes were a blur. Home fans rallied, that is for certain, but more out of desperation than anything else.
Feeney swung cross after cross into the penalty box from the right, with no-one but Knight looking close to getting a telling touch.
The captain has found himself out of favour with manager and fans of late but had he given up on another Feeney cross after 92 minutes instead of hooking it back across goal, it would have been game over.
Mills headed on to the bar and Baptiste swooped to nudge the ball into the top corner over a covering defender.
Two extra injury time minutes meant there was even time to win it. Both Medo and Knight came close.
Relief diluted the jeers at the final whistle and the reaction of the Wanderers players told an interesting tale – some, like Baptiste or Hall, were slumped on the floor, spent of energy, others sulked silently down the tunnel.
Freedman may well have been taking notes at that point too.
Star man - Medo Kamara - Wanderers need someone with a bit of pluck at present – and while the ever-angry midfielder sometimes sails quite close to the wind discipline-wise, he could never be accused of a lack of effort.