Saturday 2nd January 2010

Bolton Wanderers 4 Lincoln City 0
FA Cup sponsored by E.ON Third Round
At: Reebok Stadium
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £16; Programme: £1 (32 pages)
Attendance: 11193
Weather: cold, clear sky
Duration: first-half: 46:25; second-half: 48:10

Bolton Wanderers began the post-Megson era by easing into the Fourth Round of the Cup with four unanswered second-half goals against plucky Lincoln City. After an even first half, it was two goals scored within the space of a minute, soon after the restart, that turned the tie dramatically in favour of The Trotters.

On a third consecutive Saturday when most non-league games in the North and Midlands were off, it again proved difficult to find a game that was definitely on. With options running out and only Ascot United a definite (three hours drive away though), an FA Cup tie at either Bolton Wanderers or Wigan Athletic seemed the safest option to guarantee some afternoon action. I’d not previously been to either the Reebok Stadium or the DW Stadium and opted for the former because it was the easiest to access from the motorway.

The Bolton game had a tenuous link with the Second Qualifying Round tie I’d seen back in September. Had Bardon Hill Sports kept their run going to the Third Round then they’d have been the opponents today. Sports were knocked out by Northwich Victoria in the Third Qualifying Round who in turn were knocked out in the Second Round by Lincoln.

Blizzards through Cheshire up the M6 made me think about turning round at the Holmes Chapel junction and head back to the Britannia Stadium instead. News, however, of the problems the York City team coach was having on the M62 persuaded me to carry on even though Lincoln were reportedly having similar problems themselves.

The impressive Reebok Stadium, Bolton’s home since 1997 after they left Burnden Park, proved to be unmissable close to M61 junction 6. Access was excellent and a parking spot in the huge car park was 300 yards from the ground, even if it did cost me the £6. I was off the motorway and parked up with hardly a queue of traffic, then again this was 75 minutes before kick-off.

The Reebok design is unlike any other of the new stadiums in that each stand had a rectangular lower tier and semi-circular upper tier. Four floodlight pylons rose from each corner from the stand roof. Home fans had three sides of the ground – Nat Lofthouse (East) Stand, North Stand and West Stand – with those from Lincoln occupying the lower tier and part of the upper tier of the South Stand.

I’m not sure what the norm is for a Premier League game but cash admission was taken at certain turnstiles – £16 down the side and £13 behind the goal. I opted for the Nat Lofthouse Stand and got a decent unobstructed view from Row S in line with the penalty area attacked by Bolton in the second half.

Following the sacking of Gary Megson on Wednesday, managerless Bolton went into the game in 18th position in the 20-team Barclays Premier League with 18 points from 18 games. Though occupying a relegation spot, they did have two games in hand on most of the teams immediately above and below them. Bolton were unbeaten in their last four games in a run which included a win and three draws.

Visitors Lincoln were third from bottom in Coca-Cola League Two in 22nd position (90th in the professional game pyramid) with, like Bolton, an average of one point per game from 22 league games.

When the teams were announced, there was a sense of disappointment that former Stafford Rangers loanee Chris Basham wasn’t in the squad. He’d featured in the recent games against West Ham and Burnley.

Bolton got the game underway attacking the South Stand (away end) in the first half. After surviving an early scare, they enjoyed a lot of possession without seriously troubling Lincoln keeper Robert Burch. After the half-hour mark, the Lincoln fans got excited when Chris Herd fired straight at Ali Al Habsi.

Just before the break, Chung-Yong Lee’s corner was hit too deep and signalled an early exodus to the refreshment queues.

With minimal cloud cover, it was certainly getting cold by the interval, a bit teeth-clatteringly cold actually, so I headed for the relative warmth of the corridor beneath the stand. I thought that if Bolton were going avoid a cup shock, they would need to score in the goal nearest to me.

Score the Trotters did just 195 seconds after the restart with a goal that was tough luck on the visitors. Matt Taylor’s cross took a deflection of defender Moses Swaibu and ended up in the net.

The Lincoln fans behind the far goal were stunned to silence 53 seconds later as Bolton doubled their lead. A nice move down the left was finished by unmarked Lee who fired home from 15 yards out.

Lincoln didn’t roll over and created several decent chances. The flying Al Habsi produced a superb save in the 71st minute to turn round a well-struck effort from Herd.

Bolton added a third goal in the 83rd minute. Kevin Davies crossed towards the far left post where Gary Cahill headed into the top right-hand corner from six yards out.

Game over and home fans started to make an early exit, content their side had booked a place in the Fourth Round. I wonder what they thought about the loud cheer they heard when three sides of the Reebok celebrated a fourth goal in the second minute of stoppage time. Substitute Tamir Cohen pulled the ball back for Mark Davies to sidefoot home at close range.

The home fans chanted “we want five” but there was no time left for another goal.

“Attendance at the Reebok Stadium 11,193.”

Sportbox stats

1-0 Moses Swaibu (49 og)
2-0 Chung-Yong Lee (50)
3-0 Gary Cahill (83)
4-0 Mark Davies (90+2)