Nolan exploits gap in class to steer Bolton towards Europe

Bolton Wanderers 3 Fulham 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

There was a time, many years ago, when Fulham were the up-and-coming Premiership force, and finishing in 17th place constituted success for Bolton Wanderers. In fact, this was the case only a couple of seasons ago, but on Saturday it felt much longer.

There was a time, many years ago, when Fulham were the up-and-coming Premiership force, and finishing in 17th place constituted success for Bolton Wanderers. In fact, this was the case only a couple of seasons ago, but on Saturday it felt much longer.

Such has been the divergence in their fortunes since that Bolton are closing in on a European place while Fulham appear in freefall, having dropped into the bottom six with only one win in their past seven games. Even allowing for the fact their opponents had to play with 10 men, for over 75 minutes, this was far too comfortable a victory from Fulham's point of view.

Bolton look increasingly assured as a top-six side. Under Sam Allardyce, their manager, they are nothing if not professional, which in this case meant exploiting their numerical advantage and stretching Fulham's midfield. Kevin Nolan, Fernando Hierro and Jay-Jay Okocha were outstanding in a display that belied Bolton's reputation as reliant on long balls and set pieces.

With five in midfield against Fulham's three, it brought into question the tactics of Chris Coleman, the Fulham manager, who had decided from the start to field a front two at the expense of a fifth midfielder. Following Claus Jensen's dismissal for handling Bruno N'Gotty's goalbound header on the line - Fulham rightly claimed afterwards that the French defender had fouled his marker, Brian McBride - Coleman persisted with two strikers. That left only Lee Clark and the attack-minded Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque in midfield.

It could be claimed this was a positive approach, and that Okocha's converted penalty left him little choice but to commit men forward, but Bolton are difficult enough to play at the best of times, let alone in these circumstances. As it was, the game was over before half-time. The outstanding Nolan, his form fully restored from what Allardyce calls his "big-headed year" last season, headed a second. Even though Boa Morte gave Fulham brief hope early in the second half, Stelios Giannakopoulos ran on to Nolan's subtle pass inside Zat Knight to add a third. From then on Bolton coasted home.

"If you look at the top-scorer charts this year, there aren't even many forwards scoring prolifically, so midfielders who score goals are invaluable," Allardyce said. "We haven't got any forwards who have scored 10 goals so you can see how important Kevin is for us."

Steve Kean, the Fulham assistant manager, insisted that they were "looking upwards rather than downwards" and were "not shuddering with fear" at the prospect of relegation. But with the four sides below them showing signs of life, a greater sense of concern would not go amiss at Craven Cottage.

Goals: Okocha pen (13) 1-0; Nolan (33) 2-0; Boa Morte (47) 2-1; Stelios (54) 3-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Ben Haim, N'Gotty, Candela (Gardner, 84); Hierro (Fadiga, 85); Stelios, Okocha, Speed, Nolan; Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Pedersen, Jaidi.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van Der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenior; Jensen, Clark, Malbranque (Radzinski, 80), Boa Morte; Cole (John, 82), McBride. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk); Bocanegra, Pembridge.

Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).

Booked: Fulham Rosenior, Boa Morte.

Sent off: Fulham Jensen (12).

Man of the match: Nolan.

Attendance: 25,423.

Comments