Bolton weathered a second half onslaught from a Bayern Munich side inspired by the talismanic Franck Ribery to claim a highly impressive UEFA Cup point at the Allianz Arena tonight.
Bayern would have intimidated anybody: a manager in Ottmar Hitzeld with 2 Champions League successes under his belt, a magnificent stadium and a glittering catalogue of German stars fused with the Gallic flair offered in abundance by Ribery. Yet Wanderers, lining up in a 4-5-1 formation and missing several key players, stood toe-to-toe with them from the start with a display full of determination and a willingness to show their hosts an adequate, but not excessive, amount of respect. Gary Megson was a member of the Norwich squad when they famously triumphed over Bayern at the old Olympiastadion in 1993, and it must have brought back some memories of what was required to get something from the prestigious Bavarian outfit.
Indeed, the visitors came out of the blocks quickest and were leading within 8 minutes when Jamaican full-back, Ricardo Gardner, latched onto Daniel Braaten’s pass and struck his first goal in 5 years with a deflected volley that hit the woodwork before bouncing into Oliver Kahn’s net.
Marcell Jansen almost responded immediately with a long range drive but, in truth, Bolton’s policy of containing Bayern and hitting them on the break appeared to be paying dividends. The Germans didn’t find even second gear until the half hour mark but in the meantime, Ribery, who was finding his most destructive form, supplied both Andreas Ottl and Lukas Podolski with chances after good work but both went begging. Miroslav Klose, top scorer in the last World Cup, then went down in a heap after back heeling the ball between Gerald Cid and Gavin McCann, but saw his claims for a penalty waved away by the referee.
The marauding Brazilian defender, Lucio, struggled with the threat Kevin Davies posed as a lone strike when Bolton found him and they could have been 2 up as a result of this before the sumptuous equaliser arrived. McCann prodded a through ball between Lucio and Daniel Van Buyten that Davies latched onto, before beating the defender and firing wastefully off target when he should have done better.
It was the warning sign the Bavarians needed to waken from their slumber. On the half hour mark, Podolski cut inside from the left hand touchline before roaming into the box and laying the ball off to Ribery. The Frenchman in turn laid the ball off to Bastian Schweinsteiger and he in succession found Podolski. The striker capped a breathtaking move by striking beyond Ali Al-Habsi in goal with the outside of his boot from 15 yards. It wasn’t just the equaliser; it was a passage of play which would prove a pre-cursor for the next 30 mins of the game.
Ribery broke through again on 32 minutes, darting past 3 defenders before firing at Al-Habsi from an acute angle. Yet profligate Bolton weren’t too despondent with the equaliser and should have done better with their next opportunity. Their physical approach tested Bayern’s defensive capabilities and they were found wanting; Mikel Alonso played the ball forward and Lucio should have dealt with it easily. He didn’t, and Davies was all over him instantly, stealing the ball and holding it up, but the striker ruined his good work, failing to find the supportive Danny Guthrie with a disappointingly timed pass.
It wasn’t long before Ribery would look to make them pay again. The former Marseille man cut inside and tested Al-Habsi, who was up to the task with Klose looking for scraps. Megson, heeding the danger signs, was clearly under some strain by this point and could be heard cursing Alonso on the touchline microphone.
Hitzfeld’s men tested Bolton’s resolve twice before the half was out; Firstly, a free kick being overseen by Ribery, Podolski and Schweinsteiger was rolled to Van Bommel whose deflected shot was saved and latterly Schweinsteiger let the Trotters off the hook. The German international bolted onto Podolski’s excellent back heel and while his initial shot was saved, he was presented with a half open goal on the rebound and volleyed wide of the post.
Bolton were undoubtedly relieved to get in to the dressing room level, but in fairness Al-Habsi wasn’t overworked in the first 45 minutes, and on reflection they were good value for the score. Not long after emerging for the second-half, Kevin Nolan flashed a long range drive harmlessly over Kahn’s crossbar. It was to be the last passage of attacking from the Trotters for a good 15 minutes as Bayern upped the tempo.
As would be seen after his substitution, Ribery was integral to every penetrative piece of play they offered. The 24-year-old transformed the Bayern Munich team, and it came as no surprise when he initiated the second goal on 49 minutes, bursting into the box and taking his time to pull the ball back from the byline. Podolski, without a goal in 11 games before this hugely entertaining encounter, rushed in and opened the face of his boot to direct it high into the Bolton goal from 5 yards out.
Christian Lell then blasted high over the crossbar as Bayern slipped effortlessly into fifth gear. They were beginning to find more and more space, and the Ribery show didn’t look like abating as they pressed for the third with some magnificent, incisive, triangular passing moves. Bolton replaced Alonso with Stelios Giannakopolous, after all, Megson would continue to believe while there was a single goal in it. Meanwhile, Podolski would be denied a hat-trick as Luca Toni replaced him. The Italian international’s introduction merely served to display what a staggering array of talent the English team were up against, and how creditable their point was.
They didn’t always look like obtaining it, though, as Ribery played a couple of one-twos inside the box before forcing an exceptional save from Al-Habsi. It was to be the last action in the game from the majestic midfielder, who was replaced on the hour by 17-year-old Toni Kroos, but he showed why Galatasaray fought so hard to keep him and also why he courted interest when at Marseille from Arsene Wenger. On this evidence, Ribery would slot perfectly into Arsenal’s fluid, penetrative modus operandi.
Schweinsteiger attempted a couple of long range drives, the first of which brought another brilliant save from Al-Habsi, who sustained a minor injury in the process, and the second which sailed harmlessly wide. Van Bommel also tried but his effort was deflected wide. The shots were now being restricted in their origin to outside the 18-yard-box and, with Ribery off, Wanderers had seen off the relentless pressure. Megson, with nothing to lose, gambled on a change to 4-4-2, with Braaten accompanying Davies up front. Incidentally, a Lucio free-kick from long-range on 77 minutes was the last time Al-Habsi would be tested after that point.
Braaten’s impact was minimal; he was replaced shortly after by the Iranian international, Andranik. The effect of the shape on the team though was anything but; Davies was no longer the only outlet and the Lancashire side began to believe they could get something from this one.
The goal that restored parity for Wanderers reflected their cunning approach to the game in general, moulding a streetwise nature with pure doggedness. A quickly taken long throw was latched onto by Kevin Nolan. The Liverpudlian was still 25 yards out on the right flank, but cut inside, deftly touching the ball over Lucio’s head and into the danger zone. He continued to chase it, again touching it in the direction of Kevin Davies, and the despairing Bayern defenders could only watch as his sweetly struck volley flew into the net, giving Kahn no chance for 2-2.
The shell-shocked Germans had nothing left to offer, apart from a dipping volley from Lucio in injury time that went the wrong side of the crossbar, and Bolton nearly won it themselves; Andranik’s volley was saved by Kahn although it looked to be heading wide.
To the noisy travelling support deep in the bowels of the Allianz Arena, the only thing that mattered was riding out the 5 minutes added on, which their heroes did comfortably. In doing so, they achieved one of the biggest results in the club’s history.