Dark day for honest Allardyce

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The Independent Football

Wearing the resigned half-smile of the condemned man, the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce eased into his seat with a sigh and raised his eyes before whispering: "Can it get any worse?"

The question was so obviously rhetorical that no response was required or expected from the assembled media. Indeed, the kind of reverential hush normally reserved for the recently bereaved descended.

And then the floodgates opened. No complaints were issued and barely a flicker of emotion was betrayed. Instead, there was just a straightforward issuing of facts which was as refreshing as it was honest.

It was, he said, Bolton's lowest point of the season, and his side did not play well enough. Mistakes are often a team's undoing and so it had proved. Injuries were sustained that may cause long-term concern and the first-choice goalkeeper was facing a suspension of three games. In short, he concluded, this was a nightmare.

Yet hard as it was not to have sympathy with Allardyce's predicament, Bolton were architects of their own downfall. Performances ranged between the inept and the indecisive and, Ricardo Gardner's fabulous equaliser apart, never went beyond the indifferent.

And for this Allardyce must share in the blame. His three-man midfield unit was second-best throughout. Youri Djorkaeff was forced to flit backwards to help gain possession, but even when that requirement was satisfied Michael Ricketts failed to show anything of the form that brought him an England call-up.

His, and Bolton's, first opportunity came after 33 minutes when he half-heartedly struck his shot into the arms of Andy Oakes, while his lack of application following Bolton's only move of fluency just before the break drew another blank. The visitors, meanwhile, possessed an urgency that demanded reward and midway through the opening period it was secured. Paul Warhurst, who had a stinker, opted to head to his keeper from six yards and failed miserably, allowing Malcolm Christie to pounce.

Gardner's 30-yard strike in the opening minute of the second period offered a glimmer of hope, but Fabrizio Ravanelli, who personified Derby's dogged determination, snuffed it out with a fine header within seven minutes. His extended celebration showed how much it meant to him. And then it really did get worse for Bolton. Much worse. The injured trio of Stig Tofting, Gudni Bergsson and, most seriously with ankle ligament damage, Mike Whitlow all had to be replaced before Jaaskelainen was dismissed for a professional foul on Lee Morris, enabling Danny Higginbotham to score from the spot against outfield player Nicky Southall.

John Gregory, who has guided Derby to a position where relegation is now merely a likelihood rather than a certainty, was calm in victory. "We were aiming for five more wins which I think will keep us up." The optimism, restrained as it was, was beyond his opposite number.

Goals: Christie (22) 0-1; Gardner (46) 1-1; Ravanelli (53) 1-2; Higginbotham (pen 87) 1-3.

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen 4; N'Gotty 4, Bergsson 5 (Southall 5, 53), Whitlow 4 (Frandsen 5, 62), Charlton 5; Tofting 5 (Bobic 4, 71), Warhurst 2, Gardner 6; Wallace 5, Ricketts 2, Djorkaeff 5. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Holdsworth.

Derby County (4-4-2): Oakes 4; Barton 5, Riggot 6, Higginbotham 6, Zavagno 5; Kinkladze 5 (Grenet, 81), Lee 5, O'Neil 5, Boertien 6; Ravanelli 6 (Strupar, 89), Christie 5 (Morris, 77). Substitutes not used: Elliott, Foletti (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill) 5.

Bolton: Sending off: Jaaskelainen.

Man of the match: Boertien.

Attendance: 25,893.