Football: Todd's basement men lacking the finishing touch to ascend

Bolton Wanderers 0 Southampton 0
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The Independent Online
Jon Culley

Bolton Wanderers 0

Southampton 0

It is the time of year when managers in Colin Todd's position speak of the need to be positive in almost every sentence and take great care never to mention the "r" word. Presumably, then, for the sake of morale, the Bolton players are banned from using the talking lifts at their still- shiny Reebok Stadium. Press the button for the ground floor and the departing visitor is greeted with ominous words: "Going down."

The cynical money says Bolton will be, along with Barnsley and maybe even Crystal Palace as the Premiership decides this season's intake did not come up to scratch. But don't rush to the bookmakers just yet. If Todd's team could only learn how to score goals they might be out of danger before you could say Nationwide League.

No side outside the top nine has suffered as few defeats as Bolton, who have drawn more games than anyone in the division. It is just the matter of disturbing the netting that is proving problematic.

Saturday was typical of the season's story, one which has featured only nine Bolton goals in 11 Premiership matches at the Reebok, six in 10 if the 3-3 draw with Derby is excluded. The build-up play was more than acceptable, highly creditable even; yet the finishing could not make it count.

Some of it was merely inaccurate, but two shots hit the woodwork, one header was cleared off the line and another eight attempts were saved by Paul Jones.

The booing Bolton suffered at the end was ill-deserved but their supporters see only too clearly that without goals they will not survive. It does not help that Dean Holdsworth, Todd's club record signing, is injured. Saturday's stand-in, the on-loan West Bromwich striker, Bob Taylor, looked sharp for a 30-year-old on his debut at the top level but soon caught the club affliction, missing two glorious chances.

"You cannot fault the players for effort," Todd said afterwards. "But sometimes, like today, effort is not enough. But then you look at Barnsley, Crystal Palace and Tottenham all losing today and you realise there is still a long way to go. Even Newcastle cannot regard themselves as safe, so we'll keep positive."

Southampton, for whom Ken Monkou and Carlton Palmer among others worked tirelessly after Francis Benali was sent off in the first half, defended resolutely but were never negative. Defeat would have been unjust.

In Saturday's determined mood you would back them to stay up while Bolton, were it not for their little problem, might well consider themselves too good to go down. Until it is solved, however, that assessment can apply only to their stadium, talking lifts and all.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Cox, Todd, Bergsson, Phillips; Pollock (Carr, 72), Frandsen, Thompson, Sellars (Gunnlaugsson, 72); Blake, Taylor. Substitutes not used: Beardsley, Fish, Ward (gk).

Southampton (4-3-3): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Dryden, Benali; Oakley, Richardson, Palmer; Davies, Hirst (Slater, 46), Ostenstad (Williams, 77). Substitutes not used: Le Tissier, Spedding, Moss (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Southampton: Palmer, Dryden, Davies. Sending-off: Benali.

Man of the match: Jones.

Attendance: 23,333.