MARC ILES BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 4 Blackburn Rovers 0
6:00am Monday 3rd March 2014 in Sport
CREDIT where credit is due – because Dougie Freedman and his players have taken some stick this season – but this was absolutely spot-on.
Take into consideration for a moment that the last time Wanderers fans could reflect on a win this comprehensive over Blackburn Rovers, an inventor called Otto Frederick Rohwedder was about to unleash upon the world its first-ever bread slicing machine.
So forgive the pun, but I propose a toast to new beginnings at the Reebok, and hope the inventiveness, passion and fearlessness the Whites have shown over the last two weekends can carry on into the future.
This wasn’t just a victory, it was annihilation.
It was as if frustration for all the missed chances and silly defensive mistakes witnessed at this very ground over the last seven months had been rolled up into a cannon ball and aimed squarely at the decks of Gary Bowyer’s ship, which sank without a trace.
It was not a result that will carry anything like the same historical significance as the day Gary Megson’s side ended the home hoodoo against Manchester United, or when Sam Allardyce and Jay Jay Okocha danced a jig to celebrate survival after victory over Middlesbrough. But this was pure catharsis – a performance that could finally flush away some of the poisons that had been slowly building up over the course of a season of underachievement, perhaps even since that near miss on the play-offs.
Freedman was wise to keep a level head and resist the temptation to crow about the result. It was a big step in the right direction for him personally, and the fact that all four goalscorers on the day, Medo Kamara, Joe Mason, Jay Spearing and Andre Moritz were “his men” was not lost on us.
Compare this to the feeling six months ago when the Scot, speaking just a couple of days before the close of the summer transfer window, was considering wholesale changes after the embarrassment of a 4-1 drubbing at Ewood Park.
“If certain players don’t want to be here, they go come Monday morning – that’s how I feel right now,” he scowled after the game, revealing a touch of his own annoyance that things were not moving quickly enough on the recruitment side.
Wanderers had fallen to rock bottom that August day, and while there have been many more failures than successes since then, there are signs the Scot is now slowly getting his squad to where he wants them to be.
Any manager wants to be judged on his own squad – the question has been can Freedman get the best out of the players he inherited while that rebuilding process continues? Well this was a very good start.
You could make a case for almost anyone in a white shirt for man of the match, although the real heartbeat of this performance came from midfield, for me.
Nothing gets a Wanderers crowd onside like a whole-hearted challenge – just ask Kevin Davies, who made a career out of hunting down full-backs.
Neil Danns set the tone with a bone-rattler on the touchline five minutes into the game and from there, Spearing, Medo and Mark Davies ruled the roost completely.
Davies scampered around the pitch as if in his Premier League pomp, while Spearing and Medo, often regarded as enforcers in Freedman’s preferred formation, showed a much more positive side to their game.
That the manager stuck by Lukas Jutkiewicz and Mason as a pairing up front was a big thing, embraced instantly by the fans as the names were announced pre-match. And on this form the partnership looks like being a handful for any Championship defence.
Meanwhile at the back – Adam Bogdan’s confidence levels have gone through the roof since his return to the team, likewise a fully-fit David Wheater. But three men who have had their fair share of brickbats, Alex Baptiste, Tim Ream and Zat Knight, also stood up and played their part.
Wanderers had exploded out of the traps, Danns forcing a save out of Paul Robinson with a deflected shot and Davies having an effort cleared superbly off the line by Matt Kilgallon.
Bogdan made an important stop from Jordan Rhodes, now nine games without a goal, after a misjudged header from Knight but Wanderers did not dwell on it and opened the scoring a few minutes later.
Jutkiewicz played Danns in down the left and when he beat Adam Henley to cut a low cross back to Medo, the Sierra Leone international did superbly to steer a header into the bottom corner.
Robinson was all that stood in the way of a second. The ex-England man denied Danns again then thwarted Mason after he had been threaded through by Spearing’s pass.
At 1-0 you wondered whether the Whites would be left regretting the missed opportunities but when Danns’ volley in first-half stoppage time presented another chance for Mason, the on-loan Cardiff City man wasn’t about to miss twice.
Happy fans had barely returned to their seats by the time Spearing made it three – his 25 yarder bouncing off the bar and across the line, a fact eventually confirmed by referee Paul Tierney after a discussion with his assistant but spotted by just about everyone else outside the Blackburn dugout.
Rhodes missed a gilt-edged header to get his side back into the game after connecting with Markus Olsson’s cross, but it would have been much more than Rovers deserved on the day.
At 3-0, the victory matched the achievements of a John Byrom-inspired Whites, who had beaten Blackburn by the same scoreline in 1972 under Jimmy Armfield.
Wanderers got gradually closer to a fourth – Jutkiewicz squeezing a shot wide, Mason hitting the side-netting.
The crowd were baying for another, but it wasn’t until swaggering Brazilian Andre Moritz came off the bench to hit a low left-footed shot beyond Robinson in the dying moments that they got what they wanted.
It was standing ovations all-round at the end, Wanderers fans staying behind in their numbers to remember what it was like to truly outclass the opposition on home turf; it had been a while.
There are those who will inevitably point out that this was a sign of what might have been, and they have a strong case.
But for now it seems right to focus on the future, and what is yet to come. After months of scrutiny, perhaps it’s time to cut some slack?