UEFA Cup – Second string Bolton crash out
Bolton Wanderers crashed out of the UEFA Cup with barely a whimper after their reserves lost 1-0 to Sporting in Lisbon.
There are now no English sides left in the draw for the quarter finals, in stark contract to the “big brother” Champions League tournament, where four Premier League sides remain in the last eight.
A sublime finish from Bruno Pereirinha with five minutes remaining gave Sporting a 2-1 aggregate win but it was in truth a poor much, with genuine chances few and far between and quality lacking even from the Portuguese side.
Bolton quite clearly did not care about this tie, despite a historic campaign thus far which included a win over Atletico Madrid and a 2-2 draw at Bayern Munich, as they played almost entirely a second string XI, with Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kevin Nolan, Kevin Davies, Andy O’Brien, Ricardo Gardner, Ivan Campo, Gavin McCann, El-Hadji Diouf and Matt Taylor all absent.
The opening exchanges were entertaining enough, Sporting’s Simon Vuckevic forcing a second minute save by Ali Al-Habsi when he sent a free kick curling towards the top right, while Bolton’s Portuguese forward Ricardo Vaz Te fired inches wide soon afterwards after expertly controlling a long ball on his chest.
Abdoulaye Meite almost gifted the hosts an opener when he got caught with the ball between his feet to the right of his own area after a poor pass by J’Lloyd Samuel, but Vuckevic should only hit the side netting with the shot. Vaz Te, meanwhile, was Bolton’s main threat, finding a superb drive blocked en route to goal by team-mate Stelios just before the quarter hour.
Bolton’s reserves were enjoying themselves, Danny Guthrie forcing a save from Rui Patricio, who was also forced into action when a Guthrie set-piece caused his defence problems.
The pace of the game slowed, however, with Sporting content to protect their away goals advantage and Bolton – mindful of the upcoming Premier League relegation clash with Wigan – happy to sit back and wait for an opening.
The second half was subsequently a turgid, uninspired affair, one-paced and lacking in clear-cut opportunities.
A sole moment of controversy arose when Hunt seemed to pull-down Liedson in the box, but the flag was already up for an offside that was dubious at best.
Sporting had more of the ball but their shooting was woeful, with Bolton occasionally threatening on the break but lacking anything resembling a final ball.
Joao Moutinho won a corner when a long-range drive – which appeared to be going wide – was tipped away by Al-Habsi, while Liedson inexplicably fired straight at the Oman keeper when found unmarked in the box by Romagnoli.
Finally they found their goal with five minutes to go, a moment of magic from Bruno to curl past Al-Habsi into the top left after a positional error from Samuel let him in.
It broke the hearts of the Bolton fans, knowing their side were offering little going forward and they almost went two behind when Joao Moutinho forced an acrobatic save from Al-Habsi.
The only likely further scorers were Sporting, Bolton’s night summed up when substitute and debutant Nathan Woolfe made a superb run in injury time but was let down by the delivery.
Sporting join Fiorentina, Bayern Munich, PSV, Zenit St Petersberg, Getafe, Leverkusen and sole British representatives Rangers in the pool for Friday’s quarter finals draw, with coverage from eurosport.yahoo.com following the Champions League draw – LIVE at 11:30am GMT.