A 2-2 draw satisfied Michael Appleton and Dougie Freedman, who are both hoping to recapture past glories for their clubs
History has drawn Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers closer than the 30 miles that separate them. This is the 60th season since the Matthews Cup Final, won 4-3 by Blackpool. But their meeting at Bloomfield Road on Saturday was all about the future. Both clubs are under new managers and both were satisfied with a 2-2 draw that left Bolton equidistant from play-offs and relegation and Blackpool two points better off. Looking back lay only in the impeccably observed Remembrance tribute before kick-off, which included a trumpet voluntary verging on the involuntary.
The teams were straightaway in tune, providing a first half of sizzling skill in the sun before icy rain led to a scrappier second. Bolton led in each – for a minute in the first beyond the quarter-hour and for 10 in the second from the 71st minute. Honours were substantial and even.
Dougie Freedman's third game in charge at Bolton made him an old hand beside Michael Appleton, on his third day. Championship seats are hot in the north-west. All four clubs, all beginning with B, had new managers inside a fortnight as they seek to regain Premier League status. Freedman abandoned high-flying Crystal Palace to replace Owen Coyle. Appleton, more understandably, left Portsmouth, where he found himself "at times being an administrator, accountant and politician". Saturday was the first anniversary of his appointment there, his first in management. Born in Salford and once a Preston midfielder, he was coming homewards.
He inherited a side that Ian Holloway had crafted, taken to the top tier for the first time in 39 years for one heady season (two ago) and left, still in fair order but in need of fresh impetus, to replace Freedman at Palace. Appleton commended a style of play that "has won many admirers" and hoped to encourage the same philosophy. "I'll just look to tweak things a bit, imprint my ideas," he said. Freedman, two years older at 38, had been happy, too, with a "club geared to getting back into the Premier League". They need to. Crowds are down 6,000 since their drop in May.
On Sunday Appleton was "collecting stuff from Winchester and taking in Bristol City", his next opponents. "It's obviously been a manic few days," began Appleton in the programme, and "I can't wait to get in the dug-out this afternoon". It was no less manic then, as Martin Petrov slid Mark Davies through to score, stirring Bolton's standing supporters to launch smoke bombs and firecrackers. In the next play, after a two-minute delay, Tom Ince cut in from the right and shot left-footed into the far corner, his season's ninth league goal.
The later goals fell to substitutes. Davies, a force of creative nature, put Chris Eagles clear for Lee Chung-yong to run in the cross. Then Kevin Phillips had his first touch, a volley, blocked from a free-kick but Nathan Delfouneso forced home in the ensuing mêlée. This KP, three years older than his manager, needs no persuasion to subscribe to the team ethic. Appleton is as pleased to find him – after a couple of seasons together at West Brom – as he is another Phillips, Matt, and Ince, who are natural targets for January predators.
"Tom scored a terrific goal and there are two or three players who I'm sure will be getting a lot of interest," Appleton said. "But we have to create an environment for them where they don't want to leave and, when they do, it's the right time for us and them." Ince and Delfouneso are in the England Under-21 squad for Northern Ireland's visit to Blackpool on Tuesday.
Both sides played with a defensive midfielder, Keith Andrews for Bolton and Chris Basham for Blackpool, reflecting a belief that over a season sound defending pays better dividends than bald-headed attacking. "It takes a couple of years to get your team but the mentality has changed already," Freedman said. His full-back Sam Ricketts said: "He's a very modern, forward-thinking manager. Attention to detail is what he's all about. He's taken the grey areas out of defending. Everything's black and white" – Bolton's colours.
Though the stadium looked a work in stasis, the Armfield Stand already bore the legend "Appleton's Tangerine Army". But the manager is in no hurry. "You begin to separate the men from the boys around February," he said. "There are a lot of players here. Having 40-odd pros is difficult." After Pompey, half that would be luxury. And Karl Oyston will come across as Mister Bountiful.