Bolton's good work spoiled by Short head
Bolton Wanderers 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
Sunday 08 December 2002
Bolton were ahead in this Lancashire derby for 84 minutes, but no student of form at the Reebok Stadium should have been surprised when Craig Short stooped to head in Dwight Yorke's cross in the fourth minute of added time to deny Bolton the three points that would have lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Bolton have not kept a clean sheet since September, and their previous four home matches all ended one apiece so – despite a catalogue of missed chances which will make Blackburn supporters impatient for the first appearance of Turkish striker Hakan Sukur – Short's late, late equaliser was almost as inevitable as an Australian victory in an Ashes Test.
The veteran defender does not often appear on the scoresheet, but after Yorke hit the crossbar midway through the second half and he and Andy Cole failed to capitalise on a string of chances – including some mishandling by Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen – Blackburn manager Graeme Souness pushed nine men forward in a desperate attempt to rescue the point which, on balance, they deserved. "It was the last throw of the dice but it would have been hard on us if we had lost the game," said Souness.
But if anyone deserved to win praise, it was Bolton's Nigerian defender Jay Jay Okocha, who put them ahead as early as the eighth minute. On a raw afternoon he kept himself warm by covering every blade of grass, demanding the ball from his colleagues and forcing defenders to stop him by foul means as often as fair.
His partnership with Per Frandsen, whose return to the side eased Bolton manager Sam Allardyce's injury problems a little, had Blackburn on the back foot from the start. Paul Warhurst and Youri Djorkaeff both hooked the ball over the bar from his long throws before his efforts were rewarded with a delightful goal. Frandsen chipped the ball into the penalty area from inside the centre circle, it was knocked down by Djorkaeff, and Okocha finished with a crisp, low drive into the far corner of Brad Friedel's net from the 18-yard line.
Blackburn lost David Dunn almost immediately with a hamstring injury, but once Damien Duff began to assert himself down the left the search for an equaliser was on, with Bolton's fragile rearguard offering plenty of encouragement.
They failed to clear Yorke's shot from the edge of the box, and when David Thompson returned the ball low across the face of goal Gudni Bergsson was lucky not to turn it into his own net. And when Thompson set up a similar chance for Cole, the striker allowed the ball to roll harmlessly under his boot when he was well placed on the edge of the area.
Bolton regrouped at the start of the second half and Friedel justified Allardyce's view – detailed in the matchday programme – that he is the best goalkeeper in the Premiership by saving at point-blank range after Henrik Pedersen intercepted an underhit back pass.
It looked as though one goal might be enough for Bolton when Thompson missed from close range after Jaaskelainen halted Cole's goal-bound run with his feet, and Yorke hit the bar. But a last fatal lapse of concentration let in Short and left Allardyce fuming.
"The Premiership will always punish you if you switch off," the manager said. "And we have nobody to blame but ourselves."
Bolton Wanderers 1
Blackburn Rovers 1
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 24,556
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