WANDERERS 2 LEEDS UNITED 2

First published in Sport The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

Kevin Davies has rattled in some important goals in his time, but you sense his equaliser against Leeds United could rank right up there among the best.

It certainly will for Owen Coyle, whose side were heading for a second successive home defeat before the skipper headed his second goal of the game.

Whether the manager’s job was – or indeed still is – so finely balanced that the next loss will be his last remains unclear. But his decision to leave his captain on the field at 2-1 down might just be one of the most important he’s made at the Reebok in nearly three years in charge.

For half an hour it seemed, again, the message had sunk in. Davies had put his side into the lead and the Whites were playing some great football, driven by Chris Eagles.

But once some slack marking at a free kick allowed Sam Byram to equalise, it was the same old story. Straight after the break, a fourth penalty in as many games was conceded and Lucciano Becchio put the Yorkshiremen in front.

Just as the knives were sharpening, Davies bailed his team out again and most probably bought his manager some breathing space heading for Millwall this weekend.

Coyle had resisted the opportunity to change his side significantly after defeat against Crystal Palace, but was forced to make one alteration after David Ngog pulled out of the squad with a hamstring injury. He was replaced in the line-up by Benik Afobe, his first league start for the Whites, and the partnership showed signs of promise.

Neil Warnock moaned after being steamrollered by Wanderers on the opening day of last season, picking out Kevin Davies as the chief tormentor in his days in charge of QPR. And he must have been having flashbacks as he watched the target man get booked for a thundering challenge on Michael Tonge, seconds before plundering the opening goal with 14 minutes on the clock.

Eagles had been criticised for a below-par performance against Crystal Palace at the weekend but looked in the mood to make up for it. His hard running won a corner off Lee Peltier before he swung in the set piece to leave Davies with a chance he couldn’t miss.

The former Burnley winger then came a lick of paint away from making it two, cutting in from the right to send a rising shot over Paddy Kenny, only for it to flick off the post.

There had been more enterprise in that 10-minute spell than there had been in 90 at the weekend, but the fact that the chances were not being taken remained a concern.

Afobe missed arguably the best. Running through on goal thanks to a neat ball by Keith Andrews, the on-loan Arsenal man deftly chipped Kenny but watched on as his shot inched wide.

Leeds had been outclassed to that point, but you sensed the tide was about to turn once Byram flashed a shot just wide of post half an hour in.

A few nerves started to flutter at the back, even manifesting themselves in the normally-unflappable Jay Spearing.

And with Kevin Davies no longer having much of a say in the game, a steady tide of Leeds attack built up in the final 10 minutes of the half.

One long ball over the top caught Adam Bogdan in no-man’s-land, forcing Matt Mills into an emergency clearance with Becchio waiting to pounce.

How frustrating, then, that Wanderers were eventually done at a set piece, and not a very good one at that.

El-Hadji Diouf whipped in a low free-kick from the left wing, that should have been cleared easily. Instead, Byram met it with a clever flick to send the ball flying past Bogdan into the bottom corner.

There had been jeers at half-time when Wanderers went in level with Palace on Saturday, but it was to largely positive vibes they headed back down the tunnel this time.

With that in mind, you might have expected Coyle’s side to avoid their all-too-familiar poor start to the second half. No such luck.

Within four minutes of the restart, Byram had been bundled down by Mills to leave referee Phil Dowd with little choice but to point to the spot.

Unlike previous awards, there was no arguing with his decision, and there was a similar outcome as Becchio rolled in his seventh strike of the season.

Coyle marched out on the edge of his technical area demanding a response. Few of his players could look him in the eye.

But he nearly got it. Kenny pushed away Mark Davies’s shot into the path of Afobe, who looked odds-on to poke home until ex-Bury loanee Tom Lees produced the tackle of the night to force a corner.

It only looked to be going one way until Martin Petrov – thrown into the mix off the bench – threw in another set piece, met by the ever-reliable head of Warnock’s nemesis.

Diouf so nearly re-wrote the script by clipping the bar in injury time – but while a point against Leeds won’t be celebrated wildly, I’d venture to suggest Coyle will take it.

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