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Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Carling Cup Exits; Embarrassing? Yes. Painful? Nah.

Bolton Wanderers haven't won a trophy since they beat Manchester United 2-0 to lift the FA Cup in 1958.  The chances of that drought coming to an end 50 years on were halved last night (August 26)as Gary Megson's side went down 2-1 to Northampton Town in the second round of the Carling Cup.

Football has changed so much since then.  Aside from a little embarrassment, this humbling against a side from two divisions beneath will not have the effect on a mid-ranking top flight club that it once might have done.  A good cup run, or indeed the opportunity to actually win some silverware was once a real motivation for players and fans at the start of every season.  An early defeat against a lower league club was a minor disaster, as hopes and dreams were shattered for another year.  Now, anyone who thinks that Bolton's manager, players or even some of its fans are shedding any tears about this loss is considered a hopeless romantic.

Five changes from the side which lost 1-0 to Newcastle United on Saturday tells us in no uncertain terms that the Premier League is still Bolton's top priority.  Not winning it, you understand, but merely managing to stay in it by the time the 2009/10 season kicks off.  Someone at Bolton (and they are far from a lone example in this regard as cup defeats for second string West Bromwich Albion and Hull City sides last night also showed) has decided that financially Bolton can afford anything but going out of the top flight.  The Carling Cup is expendable, winning it a 'bonus' not to be considered until at least the semi-final stage.

Four years ago Bolton found themselves in such a situation.  Having somehow muddled through the early rounds they found the inspiration to slaughter Aston Villa in the two-legged semi-final, going on to meet Middlesbrough in the final in Cardiff.  Defeat there (courtesy of a Bolo Zenden penalty which was highly questionable in it's execution) proved that Carling Cup defeat could be painful.  As the then Boro boss Steve McClaren celebrated with his players, Bolton were left crestfallen to reflect on what might have been.  It remains Middlesbrough's one and only major honour in its history and was celebrated with the kind of gusto normally reserved for Andrew Flintoff marking the occasion of an Ashes series win.   

The five changes made for the Northampton tie will no doubt be quickly reversed ahead of Bolton's next Premier League game, ironically against fellow Carling Cup cynics West Bromwich Albion.  Though both Megson and Baggies boss Tony Mowbray could justify changes after suffering such ignomy, if they are honest they will tell you that they would have restored their original line-ups (or something closer to it) regardless of their cup results.  They will also tell you that it is part of their job to use a squad as they see fit, and according to what they think is the best method of getting results against a given opposition. 

Both, aswell as Hull's Phil Brown who made 10 changes to his side, got it badly wrong.  Worse than the defeats themselves is the lack of remorse from managers when their teams lose out on a shot at a cup final.  It's an attitude which is slowly killing the English cup competitions.  We'll see it in the FA Cup at the turn of the year too.  Harry Redknapp described avoiding relegation with Portsmouth after taking over from Alain Perrin as a greater achievement than winning the FA Cup.  Nobody cares, so what is the point?

Bolton won their opening Premier League game against Stoke City before that defeat to Newcastle last weekend.  They will start favourites to beat West Brom, and will follow that with trips to Fulham and Manchester United and a home game with Arsenal before the end of September.  The latter two fixtures are far more important to the staff at Bolton than any early round cup tie.  Earn a battlign draw in either and the players are heroes.  For  a week or so.  Bolton may well go on to have what they now regard as a good season, finishing somewhere between 8th and 16th in the Premier League and thus avoiding another relegation scrap.  A mid-table finish will see them lauded by the pundits who will marvel at the ability of Megson to achieve Premier League stability on the proverbial shoe-string. 

Yet in the end, they will not look back on the season with half the pride of the side which goes on to win the Carling Cup at Wembley in early 2009.  But even that side, whoever it might be, doesn't much care just yet.  They have a league game to worry about.

By Stephen Orford

27 August 2008

COMMENTS

James Derbyshire

Research about the subject clearly wasnt paramount before writing this article was it.

2 of Bolton's 5 changes were forced through injuries.

Megson made the Carling Cup a priority and said so before, which dispels your whole theory of bolton concentrating on the league more to waste.

The fact is that Bolton played a strong team last night, a team far capable of beating Northamton, the players didnt perform on the night. The players who, contridictory to your article, would be playing next weekend against West Brom.

Please try and do your research next time. It makes you look rather sloppy.

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