Allardyce's formula falls flat

Bolton Wanderers 0 - Manchester City 1
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The Independent Football

What a bonus it was for a Manchester City side that could so easily slide towards the relegation zone that they should go to a ground at which everyone still says it is so difficult to play, produce so little and still get away with a win.

What a bonus it was for a Manchester City side that could so easily slide towards the relegation zone that they should go to a ground at which everyone still says it is so difficult to play, produce so little and still get away with a win.

Mind you, when Kevin Keegan and other admirers of Bolton's early-season form talk about "Fortress Reebok", they are sounding increasingly out of date. The Wanderers have lost their last three there - four in a row in all - and seem to have forgotten how to win. A style of play which brought them a place in the Premiership's top four, if not the approval of all its managers, is, for the moment, not working.

"Not only was this a poor result, it was also an edgy and nervous performance," the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, said. "I feel bitterly disappointed. We are not getting the rub of the green at the moment and we are falling into a depressing run." He hinted at change for the Boxing Day visit to Old Trafford, saying that he would be starting "to pick a side for each game, a system we think can get a result".

That could be bad news in the short term for Bolton's most charismatic player, Jay-Jay Okocha, who was hauled off after little more than an hour with no pretence of injury. "I didn't think Jay-Jay was contributing enough today," his manager said afterwards. "His passing is the main part of his game and he didn't do that today."

Allardyce had already shown a willingness to omit popular favourites by leaving Ivan Campo on the bench for 90 minutes, despite being forced by injury and suspension to revamp his defence.

Not everything he tried fell flat. Gary Speed was admirable in the Campo role in front of the back four and Okocha's replacement, Ricardo Vaz Te, showed glimpses of eye-catching pace and enterprise. Allardyce could well be encouraged to experiment further.

With only 20 fit players, Keegan's room for manoeuvre is limited, but he got lucky on Saturday. Nicolas Anelka had that faraway look - as in looking as though he wished he was far away - and did little to justify his recall, but he was there in the 52nd minute to connect with Robbie Fowler's deft through-ball. Jussi Jaaskelainen's dive at his feet would probably have been enough to give him a penalty, but Joey Barton's follow-up removed all doubt.

City's success was also built on the way that Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne kept Kevin Davies out of the game. Davies has been a key man for Bolton all season and a real nuisance to opposition defences with his combative skills in the air, but in this match he hardly won a ball.

When that happens, the Wanderers have no spearhead, although Keegan remains convinced that their approach will soon start to pay off again. "It's going to get them a lot of points. On another day, a team might not be able to stand up to it the way we did," he said, but, like a grateful guest, he was being polite.

Goal: Barton (52) 0-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-3-2): Jaaskelainen; Cesar, Ben Haim, N'Gotty, Barness; Speed; Nolan, Okocha (Vaz Te, 64), Stelios; Davies, Pedersen (Ferdinand, 75). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Campo, Hierro.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; S Wright-Phillips, Barton, Bosvelt, Sibierski; Fowler, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Waterreus (gk), Onuoha, Macken, B Wright-Phillips, Flood.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Distin.

Attendance: 27,274.

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