Creaney spoils Bolton's class act

Portsmouth 1 Creaney 51 Bolton Wanderers 1 Paatelainen 12 Attendan ce: 7,765
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The Independent Online
THEY may not have the money or support of Middlesbrough or Wolves, but Bolton Wanderers are the classiest of a very ordinary First Division bunch, according to the Endsleigh League sages. Yesterday offered evidence - both of the quality and the prevailing mediocrity.

Unfortunately for Bolton the moments of class were less sustained than they will need to be a week today at Wembley when they take on Liverpool in the Coca-Cola Cup final; indeed the shadow of that fixture may have weighed on their minds yesterday. After an initial spell when they appeared set to win comfortably, they allowed a tenacious Portsmouth side back into the match and missed the chance to go top, until Middlesbrough play Port Vale today at least.

Still, their passing game had its moments, even if the match did not have enough of them. "They are an excellent side, the best in this league," the Portsmouth manager Terry Fenwick said of Bolton. "They are a big, strong side and they'll put up a good fight at Wembley."

Portsmouth, meanwhile, look to have the resilience necessary to avoid relegation, if not the composure or depth yet to move much higher.

A strong wind threatened to preclude good football, especially as Portsmouth persisted with some high, hopeful and untidy stuff to exploit it in the first half. Bolton soon proved it need not be a factor, however, if the ball was played on the ground. It was not so much a case of Play Up Pompey as bring it down.

The first example of controlled play provided Bolton with the lead. The Portsmouth winger, Preki, gave the ball straight to Jason McAteer, the Republic of Ireland international allowed leave to play before next Wednesday's match against Northern Ireland, and his 60-yard run from his own half to the heart of a below-strength home defence encountered little resistance. Once in the Pompey penalty box, he drove in a low cross-cum-shot which Mixu Paatelainen, all alone at the far post, turned home.

Another should have followed soon afterwards, with Jimmy Glass in the home goal having to turn aside low shots from both McAteer and Richard Sneekes. Bolton at this point seemed to be making light of the absence of the 17-goal John McGinlay, who is with the Scotland squad for the match in Russia.

Home supporters grew impatient, as the best their side could manage in the first half was a stab wide by Lee Russell after Preki's free-kick into the Bolton area had caused a scramble. Portsmouth were unfortunate, however, that the referee was unsighted when Alan Thompson handled for what should have been a penalty as he challenged Preki in the area.

It appeared to spur them on for the second half, that and having learned from Bolton the trick of soaking up wind-assisted pressure and responding on the break. Within six minutes they had equalised, when Gerry Creaney, now foraging effectively, scrambled the ball over the line for his 21st goal of the season from Preki's low cross after good work by the busy Paul Hall.

Darryl Powell and Preki shot high and wide with good chances, and Bolton saw Paatelainen miskick when alone in front of goal. On the day, a draw between a talented team playing beneath its capabilities and a gritty one playing to the limit of its potential was about right.