I’m sure I wasn’t alone when a voice inside my head said ‘they’re going to regret that’ as Moritz Leitner’s shot rolled the wrong side of Ben Alnwick’s post. There were probably 25,000 little voices.
For all the aesthetic beauty of City’s passing, they simply don’t create loads of clear-cut chances. They can therefore ill afford to miss good ones when they come along.
Leitner laying prostrate on the turf in front of the River End after the final whistle summed it up. He knew – and it was good to see he cared. Yet in a game in which City had 75 percent possession, it shouldn’t have boiled down to one single missed opportunity.
Such was City’s dominance before the break they should have been out of sight. Should have been. But weren’t. And for all the undoubted guts and determination of this group, and their recent knack of chiselling out eleventh-hour equalisers, there’s a clear lack of belief in front of goal – particularly at home.
Unbelievably, a few took yesterday’s draw to be the signal to re-question the suitably of Daniel Farke to the role he’s been given; probably the same folk were celebrating late goals against Ipswich and Wolves and proclaiming this to be the start of a late charge to sixth place.
In part two of his recent trio of ‘Ask Webber‘ YouTube videos, Stuart Webber spoke of his surprise at how little slack is afforded to those trying to re-model this football club, especially when a game is lost or, in yesterday’s, case drawn. Hopefully, he didn’t dip into social media last night because his heart would have sunk.
If this was the finished article, if the football had been shabby and if there were no positive signs of progress, then the calls for change would have had to be heard. Perhaps ignored, but at least heard. But yesterday’s first-half was up there with the best 45s of the season, unquestionably.
The shift to a back four – albeit one rendered necessary by Timm Klose’s injury – led to a change in formation that worked. The dual threat of Onel Hernandez and Josh Murphy offered thrust down both sides of the pitch and opened up space in which James Maddison and Leitner could operate in more advanced areas.
In addition to being neat and tidy, there was a tempo and rhythm to the football that had Bolton’s back-four reeling at times. That they dug in and rode out the storm was to their credit – as highlighted by Phil Parkinson – but it was seat-of-the-pants type stuff.
Leitner wasn’t the only guilty party either – Grant Hanley, Nelson Oliveria, Josh Murphy all going close when they should have done better. And of course, there was the Maddison shot that thumped the post.
No-one – including Parkinson – would have quibbled if City had gone in at half-time 3-0 to the good.
That the second-half didn’t go to plan and didn’t follow the pattern of the first was in part due to City slowly running out of ideas but also to tactical changes made by the visitors. We forget sometimes that teams, particularly those fighting for their Championship lives, are not going to roll over. A point was massive for them.
The longer the game went on and the longer City were unable to find that same groove that worked so well in the first half, the more inevitable became the final outcome. Disappointing obviously, but it still shouldn’t disguise all the good of the opening 45.
In terms of perception and the aftermath of a goalless draw, if the good 45 had been the second and not the first, then much of the venom would have had a less caustic tone. As it transpired, a lukewarm second-half showing clearly stuck in the collective craw and the mood gauge, which after Ipswich and Wolves twitched towards ‘optimistic and upbeat’, swung wildly in the opposite direction. Boos echoed around the River End.
Leitner’s shot goes inside the post instead of the wrong side and the booers would have have been standing, cheering and fist-pumping, but such is the famine or feast nature of football supporters – at least those in yellow and green – any signs of progression were ignored in favour of moans.
Webber has a point.
What yesterday’s draw did, however, was quash any daft, faint notions of gatecrashing the top-six. City are neither consistent enough or, it has to be said, quite good enough in their current state to make the late charge we all dreamt of. We appear destined to finish mid-table and it’s hard to argue against that being a fair reflection.
Those who’ve read this column before know what’s coming next, namely a question mark against how the progress so evident during yesterday’s first-half can be maintained over the summer and into next season against the backdrop of more ‘austerity’.
Take a Maddison and a Leitner out of that team and it will have a very different feel and that – in a nutshell – is a bigger challenge for Webber than managing the expectations of a few stroppy supporters.
On the flip side, if yesterday’s first-half is the future then we have much to look forward to.
Take your pick.