Bolton and Fulham squared off at the Reebok Stadium to open their Barclay’s Premiership campaigns in what can only be described as a slow, mediocre display of nothingness. The match lacked everything as neither side could manage to string enough possession to create a clear chance, and neither side was willing to push for a goal.
Fulham’s new manager Mark Hughes left American Clint Dempsey on the bench for 73 minutes, opting to send out a mixture of old washed up players, Duff and Murphy and never wills, Zamora and Gera in favor of the American who is now Fulham’s longest serving player, and surely on his way out of this side after being left out of the starting lineup in favor of players who are neither as good as he is nor as committed.
Hughes sent a clear message to Dempsey whether he intended to or not. All week he has made statements about getting another striker into the side, and as Dempsey was left out he can only move down Hughes pecking order. If Hughes intended to tell Dempsey he was no longer a first team selection he has done it, if he did not that is irrelevant because Clint got the message.
On 73 minutes with Fulham looking worse than at any time in recent seasons Hughes sent Dempsey straight on, no warm up nothing, he was not even given time to jog the side line. Hughes took 73 minutes to realize his first big mistake at Fulham; Dempsey is the best offensive player you have on your roster and you left him on the bench.
Clint was in for Gera as Hughes opted to leave a struggling Zamora out on the pitch. Dempsey immediately made a positive impact. Dempsey showed a spark that was undeniable his work rate; guile and skill were exactly what Fulham had been missing. Despite no real support from the midfield sans Nigerian International Dixon Etuhu who displayed some real zeal for the match and ball winning spirit. Dempsey’s creative spark and desire for the ball made Hughes look the fool for leaving him out of the side for 72 minutes.
In the final 17 minutes Dempsey and Etuhu dragged Fulham’s dead weight up and down the pitch and created more chances in 15 minutes then Fulham had done all day. Had Hughes opted to leave Gera in the match and replace Zamora the game would not have finished 0-0, as Zamora’s lack of tactical understanding and effort left him a step short of four Dempsey’s passes into the area, all of which were sure goals if Zamora had moved or thought quicker. As good as Bobby looked for England this week he had nothing to offer after the hour mark in this match.
Dempsey seemed to be everywhere, coming to the center circle to get the ball off Etuhu, but given only 15 minutes to make a match winner when he had to create and take all the chances due to his heavy legged teammates lack of movement, it was too much to ask. As a jogging Zamora, invisible Murphy and ancient Duff were seemingly all too tired or to apathetic to make the runs Fulham needed, they were doomed to a draw.
On a day which saw the confirmation of Mark Schawarzer’s imminent departure as he was left off the 25 man roster young David Stockdale was in goal, though he was rarely needed for as bad as Fulham were Bolton was worse.
Stuart Holden the Scottish born American International made his debut for Bolton and struck the post with a great effort from just outside the penalty area. Holden shined for me he was the best Bolton had to offer in the midfield, with Zach Knight doing his best at the back in a physical battle with Zamora.
On a day when both sides will be furious at having drawn, both should feel fortunate to get a point. Fulham and Bolton looked like two sides that will be in the relegation battle. Hughes put a dagger in Dempsey unintentionally but a dagger none the less, off to Liverpool or Villa he should go.
Hughes showed no respect for the American player who singlehandedly kept Fulham in the Premiership two seasons ago with his last minute strike at Liverpool, and was the heart and soul of last year’s Europa Cup Finalist side.