MONDAY BIG MATCH VERDICT: Reading 7 (seven) Bolton Wanderers 1
SOMETHING has got to give at Wanderers and if it took this massacre to bring the debate to the surface, then so be it.
Aside perhaps from the fateful FA Cup semi-final against Stoke City, there has not been a performance from a Bolton side this gutless, devoid of any redeeming features, at any time I have watched the club.
It would be great to consign 90 horrific minutes at the Madejski Stadium as a bad day at the office but, as echoed in the tortured words of Dougie Freedman after the game, the troubles here run much, much deeper than that.
The manager made no secret of the fact he is working with players he does not want – and whether it was wise to make that statement public, he has now got to deal with it.
Freedman’s problem is that after two successive summers of failing to clear the decks, Wanderers now find themselves with a top heavy squad of so-called under-performers, and at tipping point of descending into another relegation battle – whether he admits that, or not.
Support for the manager on the terraces is dwindling – and this is not just a Gary Megson-esque personality clash.
There is a general acceptance among fans that the current financial constraints mean this is a spell of rebuilding at the Reebok.
But while Freedman wants to be judged on the players he brings to the club, his argument falls down when his own men, such as Rob Hall and Medo Kamara, are consistently left on the bench, and youth fails to get a chance.
Saturday’s starting line-up included just three Freedman signings, Alex Baptiste, Neil Danns and Jay Spearing – who was initially brought to the club on loan by Owen Coyle.
Any one of the eight remaining players could have been the target for the manager’s post-match barbs but unless there is a sensational turnaround in the transfer market, every one of them will be with us until May.
The end of the season cannot come soon enough for Freedman and, for the record, I hope he is given a chance to carry on a job he has only partially started.
But in order to avoid going the same way as his predecessor Owen Coyle he is going to need two things: some new signings who can handle the rough and tumble of Championship football and to start filtering out the players he trusts and play them on a more regular basis.
The less said about the actual game, the better. Wanderers had one chance to get back into it once Adam Le Fondre had opened the scoring, after that it was all downhill.
It took Reading just 12 minutes to exploit the weak spot as Tim Ream’s hellish afternoon began in earnest. Garath McCleary capitalised on the American’s dithering and then bounced off a statuesque Matt Mills to play a pass swept in at the near post.
Had David Ngog showed a fraction of Le Fondre’s composure a few moments later, this tale might have had a lot happier ending.
Mills’ clearance somehow worked its way through for Ngog to raid in on Alex McCarthy’s goal but the Frenchman lacks instinct in such situations and his effort was well saved by the Royals’ keeper.
It was a procession from there on in. Reading’s fans tore mercilessly into their former defender Mills, who had blotted his copybook as a player in those parts with a one-fingered gesture during a game against QPR in 2010.
He had been one of the more reliable types at Wanderers this season but this was a living nightmare for the centre half, beaten in the air by Pavel Pogrebnyak for the second goal, slotted home by Le Fondre who far-too-easily slipped away from his marker Zat Knight.
Le Fondre secured the matchball a few minutes later when Ream miscontrolled a Jay Spearing pass, allowing McCleary to power past him and provide a tap in for the former Stockport County man.
Half time beckoned. Wanderers looked in disarray. But they did get a bit of bad luck before the break as Alex Baptiste was harshly penalised for handball, allowing Pogrebnyak to get in on the action, blasting a fourth from the penalty spot.
It was damage limitation for Freedman, whose edict at half time was simply to show some pride in the second-half performance.
But for substitutes Kamara and Sanmi Odelusi, who came off the bench to inject a little resilience into proceedings, the manager did not get his wish.
From the restart, Reading searched mercilessly for more. Le Fondre volleyed a relatively simple chance over the bar but he needn’t have worried – Bolton’s defending was about to get even worse.
After Spearing had needlessly conceded a corner, Ngog had a simple chance to clear, only to trip over the ball. Alex Pearce and McCleary then combined for Kaspars Gorkss to stab home.
Goal number six arrived soon after, Spearing failing to complete his tackle on sub Nick Blackman on the edge of the box and Hope Akpan – a former target for Freedman at Wanderers – pouncing ahead of seven Wanderers defenders in the box.
When Blackman then fired a seventh, helped in no small measure by the swathes of open ground left by Knight, the 7-0 scoreline equalled Wanderers’ worst ever result in the Fooball League.
Odelusi’s persistence in the penalty box helped Ngog grab scant consolation a minute from full time – the Frenchman then grabbing the ball from the back of the net as if to suggest there was still something in the game.
A fine save from Andy Lonergan at the end prevented an eighth goal and what would have been the worst league result EVER at Bolton Wanderers Football Club; a thought to ponder for a moment.
Wanderers have four months of this wretched season left to run and one can only hope it does not get worse. Preventative measures are needed – but in what capacity only the club’s hierarchy can truly say.
One thing is for sure, the thousands of fans who have stuck with this club in such difficult times deserve some accountability.