Football: Blake makes the difference for battling Bolton

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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 1

Newcastle United 0

Newcastle have spent most of the season living with the possibilities that playing fewer games than their rivals have presented them. One of their chances to make ground on Manchester United duly arrived last night - and a lot of good it did them.

Instead of moving to within seven points of the leaders with two matches in hand, they let their chance go by and it was Bolton who made progress in the table. Like Saturday, just one Nathan Blake goal was enough and Wanderers moved out of the bottom three into mid-table respectablity.

Without Alan Shearer and Faustino Asprilla, Newcastle had only one dangerous weapon, Keith Gillespie, and Bolton had seen that coming. The visitors played prettily but without threat.

Not so long ago this fixture would have had the intriguing sub-plot of Peter Beardsley playing against his former club. A fall-out with his manager, Colin Todd, put paid to that, however, and rumours circulating round the Reebok Stadium suggested he might never play for Bolton again.

A place on the substitutes' bench scotched those, although it was the man whose return from suspension eased the England striker out of the team, Blake, who was the dominant figure of the first half.

He is the sort of striker whose languid movements give the misleading impression of not caring. When he does get the ball, however, he can burst into action with a blur of arms and legs. The 14th minute illustrated the point in that he spent an age deciding what to do on the left wing before accelerating past Watson and firing in a low cross that Jamie Pollock should have turned in at the near post.

The same stop-start flurry marked the opening goal. Per Frandsen floated over a pass from the left of the area and Blake gave the impression of chesting in front of him until he contorted his torso with a sudden jerk to propel the ball beyond Steve Watson. The deceit gave the Welsh striker just enough to beat Shaka Hislop at the near post.

Holdsworth was just fractions away from Blake's cross in the 34th minute so Newcastle, who had just long range shots from Jon Dahl Tomasson, Keith Gillespie and Des Hamilton to show for 45 minutes, could hardly complain that they reached the interval in arrears.

Increasingly it looked like Newcastle would only score from a dead-ball situation and they almost did twice just beyond the hour. First David Batty's free-kick was not cleared properly and Hamilton should have done better with an attempted volley, then Stuart Pearce let rip with a 25- yard free-kick that was too close to Keith Branagan.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Bergsson, Todd, Fish, Whitlow; Pollock, Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars; Holdsworth, Blake. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Beardsley, Johansen, Phillips, Gunnlaugsson.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Pearce, Pistone; Gillespie, Lee, Batty, Hamilton (Barnes, 76); Tomasson, Ketsbaia. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Crawford, Albert, Hughes.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).