Lee is ready to catch Stoke napping
He once dozed off in the dug-out but South Korean hopes Bolton are the wide-awake club at Wembley today
Sunday 17 April 2011
After all yesterday's modish Madchester hype, this afternoon's is the unfashionable FA Cup semi-final, and may be none the worse for that. Bolton Wanderers' Kevin Davies, an old-school centre forward in the mould of Nat Lofthouse himself, would say so.
When his first club, third division Chesterfield, reached the last four back in 1997, little was expected of a game with northern dullards Middlesbrough. A thrilling 3-3 draw resulted, leaving Davies and his fellow Spireites convinced they would have made history, and the final, if only the officials had spotted that Jonathan Howard's header had crossed the Boro line. Now Davies has another chance, this time at Wembley, and against the sort of physically powerful opponents well suited to his game.
Neutrals are likely to side with Bolton, who under Owen Coyle have been transformed in 15 months from a poor man's Stoke City to a footballing side who will nevertheless make the most of Davies's aerial strength and the ability of wide players like Matt Taylor, Martin Petrov and Lee Yung-Chong to supply him.
The South Korean was voted Bolton's player of the year last May at the end of his first season and he has now established himself alongside the man he calls "my big brother", Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung, as the most successful of his country's exports to the Premier League. Coyle finds many similarities between the pair: "Without pigeon-holing them, they have tremendous fitness levels but Lee's technical ability and football intelligence is up there with the very best for a young man. My belief is he could go on, like Park Ji-Sung, and play for one of the top clubs. He's an outstanding young player who is going to get better and we've had to be very careful with him because he's played for two years now without any sort of extended break."
Sitting alongside a translator at the training ground close to the M61, Lee looks so slight as to be almost frail, bringing to mind the first impression of the man who brought him to the club, Gary Megson: "He looks like he's 14." Having secured him from FC Seoul two days before the opening game last season, Megson was keen to play his new signing immediately, which meant Lee's introduction to English football was a wake-up call in the literal sense; suffering from tiredness after a late-night arrival, he dozed off in the dug-out before being told to get stripped and get on.
"It was simply because of jet lag," he recalled. "It was 3pm, which back in Korea is about midnight so I was sleepy!" The same applied to the occasion when a startled Megson found him meditating in the car park.
There may be little time to think, let alone meditate, from 4pm today, though Lee believes that even against Stoke, physical strength is not everything. "I hope to be bigger and stronger but I think that passion and intelligence can be more important than being physically strong," he said.
"I was worried but I grew more confident," he adds of his move, which unlike that of Park [at PSV Eindhoven] did not involve an initial acclimatisation to European football somewhere less demanding than England. "Park Ji-Sung's presence in Manchester helped ease my anxiousness. He gave me detailed information about England, about the weather and how I should prepare, and information about team-mates and so on."
When Coyle's Scottish accent becomes a little too thick, Lee enlists the help of Johan Elmander, the club's record signing, who is likely to play alongside Davies today in the absence of Daniel Sturridge. While Fernando Torres struggles for Chelsea, the only time Sturridge has stopped scoring since they kindly lent him to Bolton is in the Cup, for which he is ineligible. Coyle, however, makes the point that his team have seen off York City, Wigan, Fulham and Birmingham without him. "Daniel will be the first to tell you, as great as his finishing has been, it's because he's been furnished with the ball by his team-mates. Again, last week against West Ham, Danny got a lot of the credit but Johan Elmander, Kevin Davies... there were some big, big performances."
Similarly matter-of-fact about the threat that Stoke's Rory Delap will carry – or throw – Coyle is one of those managers who gives the impression of not wanting to make much fuss about anything, concentrating on ensuring he and his players have prepared properly – which involved taking them to Wembley last week on a familiarisation visit. Now they hope to be back on 14 May. As the posters dotted round the room read: "only perfect practice makes perfect."
Stoke City v Bolton Wanderers is on ESPN today, kick-off 4pm
Other unfashionable semis
1983: Brighton v Sheffield Wednesday
While Manchester United beat Arsenal 2-1 in a glamorous tie, bottom-of-the table Brighton edged past Wednesday, who were sixth in the old Second Division. Then they unexpectedly took United to a replay at Wembley.
1988: Luton v Wimbledon
Both teams were in the top half of the top division, but only 25,963 turned up at White Hart Lane, where half the Wimbledon team arrived in a minibus driven by their manager Bobby Gould. John Fashanu and Dennis Wise won them the game 2-1.
1992: Norwich v Sunderland
In a low-key meeting of teams involved in a relegation struggle in their respective divisions, Sunderland caused a minor upset at Hillsborough by winning 1-0 with John Byrne's first-half goal.
2003: Southampton v Watford
Watford had just beaten Burnley 7-4 in the First D ivision but were 2-0 down to Premier League Southampton at Villa Park in a less eventful encounter – Marcus Gayle pulled back a late goal.
2008: Barnsley v Cardiff
Three Championship sides reached the semi-final, and the day after Portsmouth beat West Bromwich Albion by the only goal, Cardiff did the same to Barnsley (who had knocked out Liverpool and Chelsea) with Joe Ledley's early volley.
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