Football: Bolton in a league of their own

Bolton Wanderers 3 Huddersfield Town 0
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The Independent Online
NEVER MIND the European super league, how long before the argument for a second tier of the Premiership receives another airing?

There was evidence here, certainly, that something is needed to bridge the yawning gap between the elite and the Nationwide League. Bolton, who failed to cut it in the top flight, look so good back in their former habitat that a rerun of the 1996-97 season, when they won the title by 18 points, is a strong possibility.

Huddersfield went to the Reebok Stadium as First Division leaders entirely on merit, boasting a five-match winning streak. And yet they were comprehensively outclassed by Colin Todd's side, who are unbeaten in 12 League and Cup games after rattling in 31 goals.

"I should think Peter Jackson was relieved when half-time came," Todd commented. Jackson, his opposite number, did not argue. "We were lucky it was only 3-0," he said.

Jackson went on to assess the First Division as a two-horse race.

"There are two teams - Bolton and Sunderland - who are head and shoulders above the remainder," he said. "The play-off places are up for grabs between 10 or 12 sides and hopefully we are one of those sides.

"Today was disappointing but we just weren't good enough. We were beaten by a better team."

Bolton's only shortcoming so far has been a tendency to leak goals, as they demonstrated at struggling Crewe nine days ago, when they led 4-2 only to be pegged back to 4-4. A clean sheet on Saturday was almost as pleasing to Todd as the three-goal reward for a scintillating opening 45 minutes. But not quite.

"People have talked about us conceding goals but the important factor in football is to create and we are creating. We are an attacking team and we set out in this match to pass and move and we created all sorts of problems for the opposition. Everyone in the first half was exceptional."

None more so than Arnar Gunnlaugsson, the 25-year-old centre-forward of the Iceland national team whom Todd picked up for a bargain pounds 100,000 14 months ago, despite a pedigree that included a Dutch championship medal won with Feyenoord in 1993.

He was kept largely under wraps last season, starting just two Premiership matches, but is now starting to blossom. He made Bolton's opening goal with a perfect cross for Per Frandsen and, after the prolific Nathan Blake had pounced for the second, added the third himself with a delightful piece of technical skill.

But the potency of Bolton's attack has its roots in the slick mobility and incisive vision of their midfield, controlled from the centre by the Danish hub of Frandsen and Claus Jensen, for whom Todd paid pounds 1.6m in the summer. Out wide, Michael Johansen, another Dane, is as fleet a right- winger as the division possesses, while on the other flank the Jamaican Ricardo Gardner looks an exciting prospect.

Provided the defence learns to curb its generosity to opposing forwards, it is hard to see who will stop them.

Goals: Frandsen (15) 1-0; Blake (26) 2-0; Gunnlaugsson (43) 3-0.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Cox, Bergsson, Fish, Whitlow; Johansen, Frandsen, Jensen, Gardner; Blake, Gunn-laugsson. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Phillips, Strong.

Huddersfield Town (4-4-2): Vaesen; Jenkins, Collins, Gray, Edwards; Richardson (Beresford, 18), Horne, Johnson, Thornley; Allison, Barnes. Substitutes not used: Morrison, Browning.

Referee: P Rejer (Leamington Spa).

Bookings: Huddersfield: Horne, Barnes.

Attendance: 20,971

Man of the match: Gunnlaugsson.