Bolton Wanderers (2)
Jutkiewicz 35′, Mason 45′
After the excitement and drama of the two JPT semi-final legs I attended earlier on this month, I felt that some neutral viewing was needed so that I could take in a game without really having to worry about what the score was going to be. I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning with that all-too-familiar frailty that is indicative of a heavy one the night before, and decided after a small amount of deliberation that yes, I could be arsed to go to Bolton. The Reebok is the perfect hungover tick, really. With the obvious exceptions of City and United it’s the ground that requires the least overall effort to get to – a brisk walk to Oxford Road station for a train to Horwich Parkway and I was outside Bolton’s stadium just over an hour after leaving the house. Easy.
I wandered round to the back of the stadium and picked up my ticket in the North Stand Lower (sat right in the middle about three quarters of the way up) before seeking food from the KFC in the retail park behind the ground. With the hangover seen off, I headed back down to the ground where, to my confusion, I saw that the turnstiles were still closed despite there being only forty-five minutes until kick off. Apparently it was due to a fault with the ticket reading system, and as such it was probably close to half past two by the time they started letting people in. I grabbed a coffee and went out to sit down, admiring a stadium that makes it very clear Bolton were once a Premier League outfit. The ground gradually filled up as kick off approached, and the two sides eventually took to the field. Bolton were playing in their traditional white, Watford in their maroon away kit.
A quick glance at the league table had lead me to predict a comfortable win for the visitors, and the opening exchanges supported that completely; Giuseppe Sannino’s men started brightly with the Trotters’ rearguard finding the pace of Ikechi Anya difficult to handle down the left flank. It was the home side, however, who went closest early on – Joe Mason breaking free of the Watford defence only to see a poor shot kept out by Manuel Almunia between the sticks. The visitors had an even better chance to open the scoring shortly after, as some great work from Anya lead to a delightful cross right onto the head of Troy Deeney. The Hornets’ leading scorer had the goal at his mercy but directed his weak header straight at Adam Bogdan when he really should have been celebrating his fifteenth of the season.
This back-and-forth continued throughout the half, as it quickly became apparent that neither team seemed to want to score. Both sides spurned a slew of gilt-edged chances, with Mason especially guilty of profligacy. When the breakthrough finally came, there was an initial element of confusion about it. The ball was whipped in from the right and eventually forced home after a rebound from the crossbar (not wholly sure who by, could have been Neil Danns), only for the referee to have already stopped play to award Wanderers a free kick following a foul on Medo by Alexander Merkel. Thankfully though, there was no real cause for consternation, as Jay Spearing’s set-piece pinged around the box before falling kindly for Lukas Jutkiewicz to slam the ball home in front of the travelling Watford fans for his third goal in four games.
The game was settled just before the interval as Mason at last managed to tuck away one of his chances. The impressive Neil Danns rose highest to flick the ball on and set the on-loan striker free, and this time he made no mistake, confidently firing the ball across Almunia to send the men in white into the dressing room with a two goal advantage. And that was it, really. The second period passed by largely without incident, with Bolton in full control of the match. Their forward line pressed for a third goal to really kill off the Hornets, whilst their rearguard was able to keep out a thoroughly uninspiring Watford attack that offered little more than repeated long balls up the pitch. Bolton could have had three or four in the second period alone, but a series of dangerous wing attacks only led to some ineffectual cutbacks across the six yard box, with an acrobatic effort from Danns the only thing to force Almunia into anything beyond a routine catch.
The final whistle went after six minutes of stoppage time incurred from various injuries sustained by players from both sides throughout the half, and myself and the majority of the 15,179 in attendance filed out of the ground happy with what they’d seen. The journey back to Manchester was a painless one as I had around twenty minutes before the train, and I even got to sit in First Class too. All in all, today was the ideal hangover remedy.