When the Reebok Stadium was opened back in 1997, in many ways it provided a blueprint for the future of English football stadia development; its striking design, whilst clearly influenced by the nearby McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, was set at a more ambitious level; its specification reflecting more of an M&S level of standards, as opposed to Matalan. The lucrative, big name stadium naming rights and the vast commercial and development that surrounds it – both at the time, relatively novel concepts to these shores – now form an integral part of many a new scheme.
It was fitting then, that 15 years on from its opening, the Reebok and its surroundings is still able to bring to mind futuristic visions. The approach to the ground last night immediately inspired thoughts of the dystopian, post-nuclear modernity of 2019 Los Angeles, as depicted in Blade Runner. The incessant, torrential rain from above and the hazy precipitous mist rising up from ground level; the garish glare from a seemingly endless vista of brightly illuminated signs, an offensive, commercial, multi-sensory attack on the senses, courtesy of a roll call of multi-national food, leisure and retail chains…maybe Middlebrook Retail Park in Horwich is even closer to what Philip K. Dick had in mind than anything even Sir Ridley Scott could muster?
So is Rodolph actually a machine? Is he some kind of android or replicant being, a perfect athletic prototype, masquerading as a mere mortal with a penchant for kicking footballs and footballers really hard? Well, tonight finally put paid to the conspiracy theories, he is human…and he ain’t too clever at tracking runners from set pieces. Handed responsibility for nullifying the Kevin Davies threat, Austin twice lost his man (like tears in the rain) and ultimately because of it, Leeds lost the opportunity to claim an unlikely 3 points.
In truth, although fingers had to be pointed at Austin, Bolton’s opener had an air of inevitability about it almost from kick-off; the home side had started at a strong tempo and not for the first time, having matched Leeds for effort, the opposition’s superiority in the midfield became painfully apparent; Rodolph looked on bemused as Bolton passed around him and spread the ball about quickly, stretching Leeds at will; with Tonge slow to get into the game and Michael Brown under the constant threat of admonishment by referee, Phil Dowd, who was seemingly on a mission to nullify Brown as a participant in the match, it was unsurprising that the home side gained the ascendancy.
Most decisions made by the officials varied between the baffling and the petty, and almost all favoured Owen Coyle’s team; they did little to help the cause, and brought chants of “Cheat!” from the away end and a rather more choice selection of words from Warnock in the technical area, but when the key Leeds tactic for the half appeared to be to “hit f**king Becchio!” whenever in possession, it was hard to look beyond lack of ideas in the team as the root cause of the difficulties.
The opening goal took 14 minutes to arrive; Davies’ header being greeted by a coordinated celebration (akin to something from a Disney movie) in the ‘Bolton corner’ as ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ boomed from the PA – I wonder if Dick anticipated that particular nightmarish development in sporting arenas?
Bolton continued to dominate after the goal and Phil Dowd continued his policy of obliging the home side with a string of free-kicks; Kevin Davies and he appeared to be on almost uncomfortably good terms, to the extent I feared at one stage, a second Davies goal would’ve been honoured with full-on fellatio in the centre circle. As it was, Leeds (somehow) scored the next goal, and fittingly, the Whites’ only potent attacking outlet during the half was there to head in Diouf’s free kick. While Sam Byram’s continued brilliance will no doubt attract suitors come January, rest assured at least, that he’s already too good for Norwich!
The quick fire goals knocked Bolton out of their stride and they struggled to create in open play after that, offering a threat almost exclusively from set plays; for Leeds, Diouf put in a fantastic shift, some of his hold-up play and close control, sublime. Sadly though, Leeds were to give away one needless corner too many and Davies – a man who sports a plot of forehead real estate, large enough to build a farmstead for a Playmobil family – was never going to squander the opportunity to square the scoreline, via his cranium.
After the equaliser, Leeds looked content to close out the game, yet in the dying moments of injury time, a slick passing move afforded Diouf space 25 yards out; his curling effort clipped the face of the crossbar – a perfect finale to the evening denied by the woodwork, though it would’ve been very harsh on Bolton.
Leeds fans were quick to forgive Diouf his inaccuracy, the Senegalese striker reciprocating adoring applause, before blowing kisses to the masses. Warnock was also quick to forgive Austin; shouldering the blame himself for the goals…Rodolph is human after all!
So, a very unlikely 3 points thrown away in the likeliest of circumstances, but still good point nonetheless!