BOLTON’S eye-opening result in Munich was a disaster for Boro. Not only did they get a creditable 2-2 draw against mighty Bayern but they did so with a spirited show of industry and unity of the kind that had helped them defy football gravity in recent years and which been markedly and almost fatally missing under Little Sammy.
The return to a those direct battling qualities – we all know how Nolan, Hunt, Davies play, just ask Poggi – were given a reward as Bolton weathered a storm then snatched a late equaliser for the second game running and that will have been a massive morale booster that makes Boro’s task in Sunday’s basement battle that much more difficult.
We laughed with a mixture of relief and Schadenfreude when relegation and dressing room split specialist Gary Megson was appointed and Bolton fans were staggered at what they saw as a suicidal move. The consensus was that they had confiormed themselves alongside Derby as one of the deadmen walking giving a statistically significant welcome leg-up to the rest of the half-dozen or so trapdoor dancers.
The gritty 1-1 draw at West Ham, again courtesy of a late leveller, was seen as a ‘dead cat bounce’ that would soon be negated by the true enormity of the ‘Megson factor’. It still might kick in and drag them down amid squabbling and crowd protests but that and the steely show at the awesome Allianz Arena may galvanise them enough to spark a brief upturn and that is bad news and bad timing for Boro.
On the plus side, Bolton must now battle a European hangover of the sort that has dogged many a team over recent years, not least Boro as we know only too well. Chelsea and Newcastle have both gone through recent seasons where midweek European games were inevitably followed with poor results and displays and even Manchester United saw the effect enough to prompt Fergie to demand easy home fixtures in teh aftermath as the very least the Premier League could do to help English teams in Europe.
It is not about being ‘tired’ as such, more about the impact the travelling time has on the ability of a team to prepare properly for a specific tactical challenge. Being in transit before the game eats into the training routine while flying back straight after the match then driving home in the early hours effectively writes off another day. It is a major drain on the delicate balance of mental and physical resources and no matter what Megson says about the six-pointer with Boro being “the big one” players who were buzzing with Euro-phoria against Bayern will feel the comedown to mundane normality against Boro.
The fans often suffer a hangover too… probably literally in the case of the 4,000 who made the trip to Bavaria. As we know getting back to the soulless amtosphere-lite of the bread and butter games straight after the emotional excesses of a midweek dream trip to one of the game’s giants can be a bit of chore and the crowds are often flat and uninspiring.
Boro must take advantage of that. After the unmistakable rocket they will have got from the booing last week there will have been much soul searching and hopefully a new resolve to make sure the jeers can be changed to cheers. That should have been aided by a few days unwinding at a light-hearted outdoor pursuits break where (injuries permitting) they have recharged their batteries mountain-biking and white-water rafting and doing touchy-feely exercises in trust and team-work and who knows, giggling and telling ghost stories after dark in a spooky dorm.
We must hope the bonding shows at Bolton and Boro a fully-fired up team show some unity of purpose, real determination and a willingness to battle for each other because unless they can match the home team’s physicallity early on they could be overwhelmed. If they can start at a high tempo and sustain those levels of commitment and endeavour throughout then Bolton’s demanding midweek match will start to take its toll on brains and bodies.
Boro may be more tailored to silky possession football but this is a game where more functional skills will be needed. They must be direct, powerful and robust but also mentally strong and totally committed and focussed. Defeat is unthinkable.