No opposing team ever enjoyed visiting Burnden Park, home of Bolton Wanderers in the late 50s as they knew exactly what they were about to receive. Nat Lofthouse, The Lion Of Vienna, would be ever ready and willing to chase lost causes up front and as Manchester United’s Harry Gregg would attest in the 1958 FA Cup Final, no goalkeeper was immune from the threat of a massive shoulder charge, a challenge that would bring about an assault charge today but which remained legal in those far off days and one that left a dazed goalkeeper and ball together in the back of the net for the goal that clinched victory.
Things were not much better at the other end of the pitch where the likes of Roy Chopper Hartle and Tommy Banks awaited.
Hartle was half of one of the most terrifying fullback combinations to grace the top flight of English football in the last century. He lined up on the right flank and was partnered by the equally pugnacious Tommy Banks on the left. There was no respite or escape for any tricky winger.
Play on the right then he faced the awesome strength of Banks, switch flanks and the tender mercies of Hartle awaited him. Legend has it that most teams were beaten even before the game began, particularly when they heard Hartle shouting to Banks, Hey Tommy, when you’ve finished knocking the living daylights out of that fella, chip him over here and let me have a go!
Bolton have maintained a reputation for being hard and tough to play against and even in the Sam Allardyce glory days when for several years they performed way above expectations and cocked a snoot at the Premier League big boys they were certainly no shrinking violets.
Brentford have had real problems coping with Bolton since we were promoted to the Championship and have yet to find the answer. The Bees were physically second best in every department in their first clash last season. The giant Mills and Ream towered over Andre Gray who barely touched the ball all afternoon and we were never afforded any time or room to play our own style of football – or given any protection by an indulgent referee. Bolton received six bookings to our none, a fact which tells a story on its own and we subsided gently to a fully deserved defeat as we never looked up to the challenge we faced.
We never really got started in the return match late on last season at Griffin Park. Playoff nerves were jangling and perhaps got the better of us and we were unable to find any rhythm. Even then we dominated possession and would surely have won but for that incredible and unforgettable aberration when a combination of Button, Diagouraga and Tarkowski unerringly managed to turn a short goal kick for us into a daft equalising goal for our visitors.
We played Bolton for the third time without managing a win back in November when, again, for all our domination and pretty football we were unable to make our possession count and squandered chance after chance of making the game safe after John Swift’s excellent opening goal. We were not helped by a ludicrous booking for an alleged dive by Swift when he was taken out in the area and Mark Davies escaping with a yellow card for an horrific lunge on Diagouraga. We were always vulnerable to crosses and set pieces and finally conceded a scrappy equaliser and could even have ended up losing a game which we should surely have won.
Tonight provides us with our fourth opportunity in the last two seasons to win a match against what is always a tough and obdurate Bolton team. Given that they remain marooned at the bottom of the league, are doomed to relegation, have yet to win away all season and are currently without a manager after the departure of Neil Lennon you would think that the dice are finally stacked heavily in Brentford’s favour.
Hopefully that will turn out to be the case although we have struggled far too often this season against the tougher and more rugged teams such as Birmingham, Rotherham and Blackburn who have taken full advantage of our physical shortcomings and inability to battle on every occasion when it is necessary.
Last season we possessed sufficient pace, guile and sheer ability throughout the team to outplay most but not all teams that wished to engage in a battle with us but unfortunately our more limited resources at the present time mean that we have found it far more difficult to prevail in this situation given that we are quite unable to fight fire with fire and without the likes of Gray, Jota, Pritchard and Odubajo we can no longer outclass the opposition.
On Saturday we put on a disciplined performance in which the defence appeared far more organised and the midfield quintet worked extremely hard in terms of their pressing and challenging. Lasse Vibe too made a massive difference when he came on as a substitute as he worked the channels tirelessly and eventually we were able to find sufficient space to allow our footballing skills to come to the fore.
Tonight we will have to repeat that winning combination and outwork Bolton in all areas of the pitch. Should we do that then there is still sufficient quality remaining within our team to ensure that we create and hopefully take our chances in front of goal.
We will also have to wait anxiously until just before kickoff until we know who is fit enough to play. We were without McEachran, Swift, Hogan and Hofmann on Saturday and Colin, Judge, Yennaris, Rodríguez and Button all picked up knocks during the match. They have not had too long in which to recover and I am sure that the treatment room has been full with our medical staff working overtime.
We are really down the bare bones and Josh Clarke made his first appearance off the bench for over six months on Saturday when he replaced the limping Colin. He slotted in perfectly although the match had long since been won before his late arrival. I still think that there is a footballer in Josh and I hope that he is given another opportunity to prove that he deserves a new contract for next season.
Leandro Rodríguez hobbled off with a damaged hamstring just before halftime and unfortunately that might well be the last that we see of the young loan striker. We therefore need at least one of Hofmann, Djuricin or Hogan to have recovered sufficiently from injury or illness to take his place in the squad tonight as five fit strikers have rapidly been reduced to one.
A win tonight would pretty much guarantee our Championship place for next season as well as help to restore some confidence and a general sense of wellbeing amongst our supporters. A victory over Bolton is also long overdue as it was way back in April 1992 when we last came out on m against them.
It is now time for us to allay our bogey and I am pretty sure that we will.