Sunday papers

Sunday 25 November 2001

The Times

While qualified lawyer Gudni Bergsson offered a perfect case for the defence, it's in front of goal, particularly at the Reebok Stadium, where Bolton remain unproven at Premiership level.

This unenthralling stalemate between two of last season's promoted teams was the fourth time in the past five home games that Bolton had failed to score.

Manager Sam Allardyce admitted it is becoming a problem in his quest to keep his side in the right half of the table.

"It's not that we are not creating opportunities to score. We have, but we are not taking them like we do away from home," said Allardyce, who has not overseen a home win in the league since the end of August.

"It is a little bit of a concern but if we keep performing like we did against a side of Fulham's quality, and dominate as much as we did, it is pleasing, and hopefully in the end we will turn performances into results."

That's something Fulham struggle to do, although they have made themselves difficult to beat on their travels and are now undefeated anywhere in their past five matches.

Assistant manager Christian Damiano insisted that they came north with good intentions and the side which finished 14 points clear of Bolton at the top of Division One last season did not shut up shop in search of a draw.

However, Damiano conceded that Fulham perhaps needed to take more risks to unhinge a Bolton defence in which 36-year-old Bergsson and his 33-year-old sidekick Mike Whitlow barely broke sweat.

The visitors tried to play through the centre of the Bolton back four when using the width of the pitch might have been more productive.

Bergsson is set to delay his retirement to continue a legal career yet again and the Icelander's decision would appear to be a sound one on the evidence here, where he and Whitlow prevented Louis Saha and Barry Hayles from having a worthwhile shot between them.

"The two old-timers at the back marshalled Fulham's front two without a problem for the whole game," added Allardyce, who enjoyed a first clean sheet since early September. "That gave us the impetus to go on and try to get one, and unfortunately they just whizzed the wrong side of the posts. We dominated the game and my only criticism is that the final ball was not good enough to create more chances."

Bolton had the better of what few scoring opportunities there were, although neither keeper had a difficult save to make. Allardyce was positive in his search for those elusive goals by playing three men in attack but the nearest Bolton came to scoring were two efforts from midfielder Kevin Nolan, which were saved by Edwin van der Sar, and a deft chip from top-scorer Michael Ricketts, which dropped just wide.

However, Bolton could not sustain their first-half superiority, whereas Fulham saved their best for last. Substitute Luis Boa Morte rounded Jussi Jaaskelainen, but found the angle too tight to shoot.

Although locating the target had proved a problem on the pitch, Allardyce revealed afterwards that at least his projected points tally for safety is being met.

He said: "We hit the first total of 15 points in 10 games and we are well on our way to the next one, although I am not telling you what that is."

The Guardian

Bolton Wanderers would be entitled to view this as two points dropped, having had more than enough opportunities to secure their first home win since August, but in the broader picture they can consider it another point proven. They are the Premiership's paupers, to Fulham's princes, but Sam Allardyce's motley crew of cast-offs and misfits again proved themselves the better equipped to prosper in the top flight.

Few would have imagined in May, when Fulham eased to the Nationwide League title while their opponents yesterday were negotiating the more treacherous route of the play-offs, that Bolton would adapt better to life in the Premiership, but there were a few points yesterday as to why that may be. While not as technically proficient, Allardyce's team are enterprising. On a better day, they could have been two or three goals to the good by half-time.

Despite tiring in the closing stages, when Fulham could, with better finishing, have claimed a somewhat flattering victory, Bolton were more than good value for their point. With Gudni Bergsson and Mike Whitlow supremely commanding at the back, they were largely untroubled by the pace of Louis Saha and the guile of Steed Malbranque.

In the corresponding fixture last season, Luis Boa Morte took just 13 seconds to give Fulham the lead. Yesterday Michael Ricketts almost emulated that feat for Bolton, his mis-hit right-wing cross almost catching out a wrong-footed Edwin van der Sar. It set the tone for an engaging opening in which either side, with luck, could have scored twice. Per Frandsen was inches away with a first-time shot from 25 yards, while Sylvain Legwinski and Saha both came close for Fulham.

Fulham briefly looked the more accomplished team, with their sharp passing game and the pace of Saha giving Bolton's rearguard food for thought, but they were less than assured in defence. Van der Sar did not always inspire confidence and was almost embarrassed as he struggled with a couple of testing back-passes. The keeper did rather better to keep out Kevin Nolan's curling shot from distance in the 36th minute.

With Nolan to the fore, Bolton took control as half-time approached and were unfortunate not to be leading by the interval. Van der Sar's relief was visible four minutes before the break when a 45-yard chip from Ricketts drifted narrowly wide. That, though, was as good as it got for Bolton, who lacked the presence in attack to win. Fulham looked the more likely scorers in the second half, but, with Saha subdued, they, too, lacked a cutting edge. Barry Hayles and Sean Davis had chances, but Jussi Jaaskelainen was never tested.

The Sunday Telegraph

This battle between last season's First Division champions and the play-off final winners offered an opportunity to assess how well both had adapted to the higher grade. After this goalless, yet often entertaining draw, their respective mid-term reports would be identical: keep up the good work but there is room for improvement.

Particularly at home in Bolton's case where Sam Allardyce's team are without a Premiership win in three months, a lean period of five games, four of which they have failed to score in.

It was not for want of trying for a Fulham side who had won their previous three games and on which an outlay of £27 million has been lavished in an effort to raise their standards to the Premier level. Bolton have spent a pittance in comparison but, in spite of worrying shortcomings in front of their fans, are still happily holding their own in the top half.

After their recent good run, Jean Tigana resisted the temptation of recalling Luis Boa Morte to the side following his suspension for a sending off against Ipswich. He saw no need to alter a winning formula and Fulham, who retained Louis Saha and Barry Hayles as the strike partnership, were unchanged.

However, it was Bolton who offered the first threat, leading scorer Michael Ricketts finishing off a neat passing interchange by attempting to loop a header over Edwin Van der Sar but he could not get enough power behind it.

In response Saha and Steed Malbranque combined to set up Sylvain Legwinski whose shot from 30 yards could be described as no more than speculative. Saha's pace posed a danger to the home defence and, as they tried to tighten their rein on him, Mike Whitlow received a lecture from the referee for a crude challenge from behind.

Bolton could be equally sharp on the counter and, after Ricketts laid back Paul Warhurst's incisive pass forward, Per Frandsen whipped a low left-footer too close to the right hand upright for Van der Sar's comfort.

Van der Sar was in further trouble when he foolishly elected to dribble the ball round Rod Wallace and lost possession. Fortunately for the Dutchman, the resulting cross across the untenanted goal came to nothing.

Fulham's goalkeeper redeemed himself to an extent, however, when clawing a Kevin Nolan drive away for a corner when it could easily have sneaked inside a post.

Bolton's approach play, with Warhurst underpinning most of their moves in the holding role, was at times impressive and all that seemed lacking was a little self-belief in the final ball.

Frandsen, their chief playmaker, did his best to correct this tendency, picking out Ricardo Gardner just after the interval with a superb crossfield pass only for the Jamaican international to run out of room as he took aim.

Hayles blazed over at the other end after turning cleverly but the visitors were mainly forced onto the back foot. Boa Morte was eventually brought on to inject fresh impetus into their attack and, soon after his arrival, he nipped past a floundering Jussi Jaaskelainen and coolly pulled the ball back for Sean Davis but the latter hit a wild shot into the crowd.

The Independent

It is typical of football's timing that they want to change the Premiership just when people are getting the hang of it. For 10 seasons clubs have been trying to follow up the trick of promotion with consolidation and at least one has failed, but this year, just when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton appear to have cracked it, the élite are thinking of extending the membership.

Not that Bolton or Fulham provided compelling argument for doubling the Premiership to incorporate a second division yesterday. Rather the opposite. There were no goals, few shots and little or no likelihood of anything but a scoreless draw once Michael Ricketts missed the best opportunity of the match in the second minute. After that an Alpine skier would have been hard put to go downhill faster.

Much of the football was pleasant enough but so are the patterns made at a ladies' knitting circle, and you would not want to spend 90 minutes watching their efforts. And at least they have needles to provide an element of danger, which is something these teams failed to do, Bolton managing just two accurate attempts and Fulham none.

"The final ball into the box wasn't good enough to create danger," Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, said. "That was the only thing that stopped us getting the three points." He failed to mention wit, invention and unpredictability.

The game was a cameo of Bolton's season at home in that they had the majority of the possession but had little clue what to do with it. Partly that is due to their tactics, which are built for the counter-attack. That is hard to manufacture when visiting teams are defending deep in order to do the same thing.

Perhaps it would have been different if Ricketts had put the home side ahead with the first chance of the game. Rod Wallace flicked the ball to him and when his first attempt at a header rebounded back he should have done better than his lame, looping attempt that was three feet over.

Ricketts was also at the centre of a quick bout of passing that set up Per Frandsen after 17 minutes, the Dane shooting just wide from 20 yards. And it was Ricketts again who attempted a lob five minutes from half-time which bounced just wide of Edwin van der Sar's goal.

Only the first of these attempts could be described as a chance missed but they looked positively dripping with danger compared to what Fulham produced in the first 45 minutes. And it was a surprise when Louis Saha suddenly sprang to life five minutes after the interval with a neat dribble that gave Barry Hayles space on the left of the area. He cut inside and his shot flew just wide.

There was a hint of an opportunity for Fulham, too, on the hour when Sylvain Legwinski chipped a delightful pass forward into the path of Steed Malbranque's run. His first touch was not decisive, however, and as he attempted to rectify that, the immaculate Gudni Bergsson tidied up.

Was the game stirring into life? Apart from a cross by Ricardo Gardner in the 67th minute that ricocheted off Andy Melville and Ricketts and sailed harmlessly wide when it might have gone anywhere, the answer was no.

Both managers tried to alter things by making substitutions but the game was too stuck in its dull groove to be dislodged and the only feature of real note was the sudden and late flourish of the referee's yellow card. Quite how Rufus Brevett and Dean Holdsworth stayed awake long enough to get a caution was the biggest mystery of the afternoon.

Sunday Mirror

Don't tell Bolton there is no place like home. It's now three months - and five matches - since Sam Allardyce's teamwon at the Reebok Stadium in the Premiership.

Yet in that time, they've lost only one of their six away games, winning at champions Manchester United and then at Ipswich last weekend.

So there's no doubt that Bolton's impressive return to the top flight is being maintained through their superb away form.

They hinted at finding some Reebok relief in the first half against Fulham, but lost their way after the interval when the standard of play was not in keeping with the Premier League.

Fulham, promoted as First Division champions, produced their best work in the second half. But it was a day when defences were very much in control with 36-year-old Gudni Bergsson outstanding for Bolton.

Wanderers' problems at home, though, were not evident in the early stages, when the opened brightly and confidently. But despite some neat, enterprising play, they failed to create clear openings.

Fulham keeper Edwin van der Saar dealt comfortably with efforts by 10-goal Michael Ricketts and full-back Simon Charlton. But his biggest scare was from a low left-foot strike from 20 yards by Per Frandsen, who had received a Ricketts lay-off.

Frandsen's effort flew across the face of the goal and just wide of the far post with Van der Saar beaten.

At the other end, Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen held a long-range effort by Sylvain Legwinski.

But it was the 35th minute before either keeper had to excel - and Van der Sar did just that when he threw himself full-length to turn round the post, a well-hit effort by Kevin Nolan, who had seized on careless defending by Rufus Brevett.

Bolton were clearly lifted by that near miss and four minutes later, Van der Sar had to beat out another fine effort by Nolan.

Then an enterprising lob by Ricketts cleared Van der Sar but travelled the wrong side of the post just before half-time.

But Bolton did not seriously threaten in the second half when Fulham - now unbeaten in their last five matches - became more of a threat.

Barry Hayles did well to work his way into a shooting position only to send his left-foot drive over the crossbar.

Fulham boss Jean Tigana made a double substitution in the 67th minute in an attempt to liven up his side.

He sent on Luis Boa Morte and Lee Clark for Hayles and Steed Malbranque. And it nearly paid off 12 minutes from time when Boa Morte caused havoc in the Bolton defence.

With goalkeeper Jaaskelainen stranded, Boa Morte pulled the ball back to Sean Davis, but he sent his right-foot drive from 20 yards over the unguarded goal.

Fulham pressed for a winner as the match went into three minutes of added time, but neither side deserved all three points.

Sunday People

The Premiership, they reckon, is no place for 36-year-old foreign central defenders - just ask Laurent Blanc.

Manchester United's ageing World Cup winner is enduring torrid times a few miles down the road from The Reebok - but clearly it's not catching.

For Gudni Bergsson, Bolton's veteran star is enjoying the kind of run Sir Alex Ferguson's Frenchman can only dream about.

If a 36-year-old from Iceland can be on fire - then step forward Bergsson. A crucial goalscorer at Ipswich in Bolton's last game, yesterday Bergsson showed off his defensive prowess - and proved there's no substitute for experience.

Bergsson was ready to quit last summer and move into his other profession as a lawyer back home in Iceland.

Bolton came up with a tempting package - and now the wig and gown are in storage for at least another season and a half.

Former Tottenham star Bergsson has been around as long as Blanc and although he can't claim to have strutted the same high stage as the United player, Bolton boss Sam Allardyce wouldn't fancy a swop deal with the Fergie for the Frenchman.

Bergsson was up against the youthful exuberance and lethal firepower of Louis Saha and Barry Hayles in this battle of the promoted clubs - but he had the pair of them in his pocket.

Yet while Allardyce was happy to keep a clean sheet and extend their unbeaten run to three games, the curse that has seen his stars win only once since late August in the Premiership at home struck again.

Bolton looked solid at he back - but they couldn't find a way past excellent £7million Dutch international keeper Edwin van der Sar and they had to settle for the draw against a Fulham side who only came to life late on.

Christmas shopping has never seemed so appealing - but to two sides only looking for Premiershipsurvival no-one was making too many excuses.

The first half, especially, was full of tidy play from both sides, but it was Bolton who always looked the likelier to score especially in a productive spell just before the break when van der Sar came under sustained pressure. Jean Tigana may have spent £27million beefing up his side in the summer compared with mere peanuts by Wanderers, but it was Bolton who played with an eye-catching vibrancy and purpose in a determined effort to smash their poor home record.

Tigana's men make pretty passing patterns but they lacked the width to inflict any real damage and it was clear to see why Allardyce's men have adjusted to the Premiership better.

Mirroring their manager, Bolton once again displayed typical steel and blood and guts approach that compensates for the absence of any really big star names.

But in Bergsson, Mike Whitlow and the excellent Paul Warhurst they have experience and know how - and that is the foundation of their current success.

They have Kevin Nolan too - a midfielder who can't match David Beckham, Steven Gerrard or Patrick Vieira for skill but, again, Allardyce wouldn't part with him.

Nolan rarely grabs the headlines but he could have been the name on everyone's lips atif he'd scored with two cracking efforts just before the break.

One would have done Allardyce, but both times van der Sar rescued Fulham.

The second half was an ordeal for the fans with no hint of a goal to break the deadlock and even the arrival of lucky talisman Dean Holdsworth couldn't change Bolton's luck.

The best openings fell to Fulham but both times Hayles and Sean Davis blazed over.