Watford are the visitors to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium on Saturday. Here’s a blast from the past...
In a match between an established Premier League side and one just visiting from the division below, it would be tempting to expect an easy ride for the old hands. It wasn’t like that when Bolton played Watford on 9th September 2006
Expectations for the Whites were not high pre-season. The fallen galacticos around whom Sam Allardyce had built his side were gathering more wrinkles than plaudits, and with summer mainly a signing free zone, numbers were short. Allardyce later admitted that he was “bricking it.”
But then came excitement with the acquisition of Nicolas Anelka from Galatasary. This was to be his debut. The Frenchman probably wished he’d stayed in Turkey, for Bolton were a shambles.
Early on, Nicky Hunt sliced an attempted clearance over the bar and then blasted the ball into the face of a team mate Centre-back Abdoulaye Meite was sluggish and Kevin Nolan at his flabby worst. A voice from the crowd said it all.
“I work hard to afford this! You’re a disgrace!” That’s almost a direct quotation. The sentences were longer due to the repeated inclusion of a profanity. The one that rhymes with “ducking.”
By contrast, Watford were organised, showed pleasing movement and hit the woodwork three times. But then, the old adage about football being a cruel game proved once again to be true.
A few years down the line, Danny Shittu was to sign for Bolton, after one of Gary Megson’s wackier transfer adventures. On this day, the big Nigerian contributed more to the cause than he ever did whilst wearing the White shirt.
With time running out, Idan Tal made a surging run down the left hand side of Watford’s penalty area. He wasn’t going anywhere significant, unless you count row A of the North Stand. Shittu upended him with a challenge that was clumsy, gormless, ill-judged, and from a Bolton point of view, utterly delightful.
Gary Speed blasted the resulting penalty high and down the middle. Three points to the home side which were entirely undeserved.
What Happened Next
Watford were relegated, as expected, although manager Aidy Boothroyd endeared himself to many, with his hype free approach to the media.
Bolton had their most eventful Premier League season ever. The Panorama investigation into Allardyce; third in the league at the New Year after a sequence of five wins; another European qualification; the departure of Big Sam.
Ultimately, the fears expressed prior to season start were correct. While Bolton held on for some time, as far as top flight status was concerned, this was the beginning of the end.
– Richard McCormick