Bolton Wanderers went to Vicarage Road yesterday and made seven changes from the side that played their previous game against Liverpool. But the real point was that the Premiership club could still field nine full internationals, and how it showed as they cruised into the fourth round.
The omens for the tie had not been encouraging. Although the managers of both clubs often deny that their teams fail to entertain and are a bit too bullish for opponents of a more delicate disposition, there is no doubt that they are direct and sturdy. Add to that the knockout nature of the Cup and there were enough ingredients to anticipate a bit of scrimmage.
The African Nations' Cup had deprived Bolton of El Hadji Diouf, Abdoulaye Faye and Radhi Jaidi but they were also without Gary Speed, Nicky Hunt, Kevin Noland and Ivan Campo, which might have been more encouraging to Watford had they themselves not lost Ashley Young, Matthew Spring and James Chambers. For both sides it was a case of mend and cope.
The assumption was that Bolton would not be overly concerned with the Cup, but there were players in their team keen to impress for personal promotion. That was obvious even in the early minutes, when Watford were outplayed by the attractive face of Bolton, who passed well, used space effectively and subsequently took an 11th-minute lead.
Not that there was much invention or intricacy about the goal itself. Not for the first time this season, Watford made an embarrassing hash of what should have been a straightforward clearance. Instead, they relinquished possession to Jared Borgetti, who comfortably hit his fifth goal for Bolton this season, even though he has yet to make a Premiership start.
There was also an element of indecision in the Watford defence when they succumbed to a second goal in the 33rd minute. Perhaps they had been disturbed by some strange offside decisions, or the lack of them, when they gave Ricardo Vaz Te ample room to escape down the left.
A low cross was aimed at Borgetti, who simply, yet deceptively, stepped over the ball for Stelios Giannakopoulos to crack it promptly past Ben Foster. Watford's only first-half chance fell to Marlon King, who seemed so surprised to take possession unattended that he snatched at his shot and sent it wandering off forlornly in the vague direction of Rickmansworth.
Certainly Watford improved in the early part of the second half, but that was a comparative compliment. As the mist rolled in, their hopes of a recovery slowly receded. Bolton were not unhappy to absorb some pressure and await the chance to counter. This they almost did when Jay-Jay Okocha slipped away through midfield. Hidetoshi Nakata took up the attack and drove a shot on to the crossbar.
Another Bolton breakaway was outstandingly executed. They worked the ball to Vaz Te on the left, but instead of travelling further down the flank, he opted for a surprising shot from 25yards and watched in delight as it struck the far post and crept in. Defensively, Bolton were almost faultless. Joey O'Brien gave the quick Anthony McNamee only rare chances to cut inside or even centre.
The Watford attack looked second-rate against a totally dominant Bolton, who even allowed Sam Ashton, their substitute goalkeeper, to venture into the outfield.Watford's manager, Adrian Boothroyd, admitted: "We are a long way from being a Premiership side."Reuse content