Sat 18 Oct 14
at 16:50 PM
The Report: Blues 0 Bolton Wanderers 1
Blues’ home frustrations continued as Matt Mill’s first-half header decided this contest in the visitors’ favour, in a match which ended with a late red card for Darren Randolph.
Lee Clark’s side created far more openings than their visitors and twice hit the woodwork, as well as being denied on several occasions by good saves from Andrew Lonergan in the Bolton goal. In contrast, his opposite number had a relatively quiet afternoon but he could do little to stop Mills from breaking the deadlock in the 20th minute.
The visitors were clearly keyed up, playing their first game under new boss Neil Lennon, and on the touchline tensions ran high in both dugouts throughout. The former Celtic chief was forced to watch the final few minutes from the stands after being sent off for encroachment onto the playing surface in the aftermath of his side winning an 82nd minute penalty. Randolph was sent off after bringing down Craig Davies but the former Barnsley striker missed the resultant spot-kick.
Clark made just one change from the side that drew at Charlton with Callum Reilly dropping to the bench to be replaced by Demarai Gray, who was in the same starting XI as fellow teenager Koby Arthur for the first time.
It was Arthur who created the first moment of note for either side with a shot that deflected wide of the target. Dorian Dervite had Bolton’s first opportunity as he rose highest to meet Jay Spearing’s corner but sent his effort flashing just past the post.
Gray won his side a free-kick in a dangerous central area 25 yards from goal after being pulled back by Mills, who earned the game’s first booking for his misdemeanour. David Cotterill took responsibility for the set-piece which curled over the wall but frustratingly grazed the woodwork on its way over Andrew Lonergan’s crossbar.
Blues engineered an excellent opening on 19 minutes when Clayton Donaldon did wonderfully well to get to Paul Caddis’ ball in behind the visitors’ defence and pulled it back for Gray. The 18-year-old was well placed just eight yards out but crashed his shot into the ground and it bounced over Lonergan’s bar.
Just when Blues seemed to be building up a good head of steam it was the visitors that edged ahead. It came from another well-directed right-wing corner from Spearing who hung the ball up invitingly and Mills came racing in to send a bullet header past Randolph.
Lennon’s new charges visibly grew in confidence and went in search of a second goal. Neil Danns sent a half-volley skidding well wide and moments later the former Blues man was fouled on the edge of the area by Paul Robinson but Arthur bravely blocked Spearing’s resultant free-kick.
David Davis was forced to hobble out of the action just before the half-hour mark with Reilly coming on to fill the midfield gap. Gray and Arthur combined to create an opening inside the Bolton area with the latter twisting and turning before crashing a shot into the side-netting from a narrow angle on the six-yard box.
Two minutes before the break it was Gray’s turn to try his luck following a jinking run to the edge of area but his excellent curling effort was turned aside by the strong fist of Lonergan.
Arthur and Gray continued to take it in turns to try and haul Blues level after the break. Arthur headed wide from Gray’s cross and then the latter dragged his volley wide of the target. Lee Novak and Wes Thomas were both introduced as Clark went all out attack as he looked for a way back into the game.
Lonergan had to be alert to get down to his right and parry away Gray’s shot after the young winger did well to skip over the challenge of Liam Feeney and then shimmy his way into the area. And then Arthur was presented with an opportunity to volley a shot towards goal after Donaldson’s headed down Caddis high ball into the area. Sadly the Ghanaian skied his effort well over the bar.
Gray was undoubtedly Blues’ liveliest player and the academy graduate went on another mazy run into the area but his curled effort lacked the sufficient power to trouble Lonergan. With Blues pushing forward in numbers they were always going to susceptible to a breakaway and one such occasion saw a four-against-three attack but Darren Pratley chose to shoot rather than pass and his shot bobbled wide.
Blues came within inches of restoring parity and unsurprisingly the architect was Gray, who cut inside and sent in a fizzing shot that took a slight deflection and looked to be arrowing towards the top corner before Lonergan’s fingertips diverted it onto the top of the bar.
The home side’s hopes of getting anything from the game took an almighty blow on 82 minutes when Caddis’ under-hit back-pass didn’t reach Randolph and the Blues keeper brought down Davies as the Bolton sub looked to skip past him inside the area. It denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity and Randolph was shown a straight red and the visitors awarded a penalty.
Blues had used all three subs so there was the unusual scenario of an outfield player pulling on the keeper’s jersey – Novak resuming the responsibility. The striker’s first job was to face Davies’ spot-kick but all he had to do was watch as the boyhood Blues fan went for power rather than placement and sent his shot well over the bar.
Novak was later called into action to save Spearing’s fierce long-range effort and he did so comfortably, bringing a big cheer from the St. Andrew’s faithful. Try as they might, the ten men couldn’t engineer a chance to equalise, although there were home appeals for a penalty when Mills looked to have handled inside the area.
Clark’s side must now dust themselves down quickly and prepare for Tuesday’s trip to Blackburn Rovers.