Football: Speed's miss spares Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 0 Everton 0
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The Independent Online
Football resumed with drama and dignity last night, but alas without a goal to lay before the first gathering at Bolton's futuristic new Reebok Stadium. Everton, who had also been the first visitors to Burnden Park 102 years earlier, took the first half before Bolton retaliated, so the stalemate was an appropriate outcome.

On an evening when the most clear-cut scoring opportunities fell to Welshmen, Gary Speed almost earned Everton their first away victory since December with a header that landed on the roof of the net in the closing minutes. Bolton, a model of enterprise on and off their pristine pitch, just about deserved their reprieve.

The pounds 35m development resembles a fully realised version of Huddersfield's award-winning McAlpine Stadium, complete with curved "banana truss" roofs; indeed it was designed by the same architects.

As twilight approached the sun cast spectacular shadows on the steelwork, while the atmosphere seemed more infinite than at most recently constructed venues.

The sense of Bolton making a fresh start was enhanced by the news that Colin Todd, their manager, had finally concluded his pursuit of Mark Fish from Lazio for pounds 2m. The South African centre-back and captain received a rapturous welcome, but the mood changed completely as the crowd joined the players in honouring the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The minute's silence was broken only by a distant car horn and, ironically, by the clicking of camera shutters. When the referee's whistle sounded, the roar suggested the uncorking of bottled up emotion as much as anticipation of the combat to come.

Everton had already shown signs of settling quicker when the fourth official came bounding on. Recalling that Uriah Rennie had been forced to abandon the inaugural fixture at Derby's Pride Park Stadium on his Premiership debut, spectators may have wondered if some sort of jinx had followed him to Horwich.

In fact, Rennie was merely supplying the linesman with a replacement flag.

Whatever caused the original one to break, it was not waving for offside against Everton. Bolton were too hard pressed to organise such a basic tactic, conceding openings with ominous regularity in the opening 20 minutes.

Three of the best fell to John Oster, Howard Kendall's pounds 1.5m winger from Grimsby. The Welshman was unlucky when his goal-bound volley thudded into Jimmy Phillips. He then forced a sprawling save from Keith Branagan, drilling the rebound against the angle of post and bar.

Duncan Ferguson might also have scored twice before Bolton began to find their rhythm. The first moment of menace came on the half-hour, when Per Frandsen's pass dissected Everton's central defenders only for Neville Southall to hurtle out to divert a shot by his compatriot Nathan Blake for a corner.

Southall, becoming the first man to make 200 Premier League appearances, parried a thunderous effort by Alan Thompson early in the second half. With Bolton visibly gaining in confidence, Blake forced the ball over the line before Terry Phelan could clear. Since Southall had clearly been impeded, justice was served when the referee waved play on.

Bolton lost Robbie Elliott with a suspected knee ligament injury, while Everton introduced Andy Hinchcliffe after a nine-month absence. Neither change, however, altered the balance of what had become a more even contest, although Bolton will be satisfied that a century from now history will show that they did not initiate their new home with a defeat.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-1-1): Branagan; Phillips, Bergsson, Taggart, Elliott (McAnespie, 60); Pollock, Frandsen (Johansen, 79), Thompson, Sellars; Beardsley (McGinlay, 81); Blake. Substitutes not used: Todd, Ward (gk).

Everton (4-4-1-1): Southall; Thomas (Hinchcliffe, 56), Watson (Short, h-t), Bilic, Phelan; Stuart, Williamson, Speed, Oster; Barmby (Branch, 87); Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Farrelly, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

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