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Oct 20, 2007

Lee unlamented as Bolton go back to basics

Arsenal 2 - 0 Bolton

As Sammy Lee has proved in his torturous weeks as Bolton manager, the great No.2's are those who don't dare to flirt with a top job.

Time and again down the years, the chirpy sidekick of a charismatic manager has tried and failed to fill his boots when he moves on to pastures new, yet Lee's brief and painful stint as Bolton manager was among the more disastrous examples of the 'promotion from within' method.

Often looking in pain as he spoke to the media, his determination to start every sentence by muttering, 'as I said before', quickly turned him into a figure of fun, while that bizarre headset and microphone he insisted on wearing on the touchline never quite fitted his little portly head. Speculation that Lee was wearing the headgear in tribute to Madonna's 1990 'Blonde Ambition' tour and also wore a conical bra under his overcoat are surely untrue.

Nice guys like Lee don't deserve such ridicule, so it was a relief to all when he was put out of his misery and given his pay-off on Tuesday.

Few doubt Lee's abilities as a coach and he will doubtless prove as much once again in the not too distant future, but his high-profile failure as the No.1 should serve as an example to any assistant who has eyes on a promotion. In addition, chairmen who think they are clever by handing deputies a chance to prove themselves should be warned that such a recipe is generally destined to leave your club in decline.

Lee may not have been in charge at Bolton for long enough to do too much long-term damage, yet they find themselves looking for a manager mid-season when they should have been starting their search for Sam Allardyce's replacement when far more candidates would have been available last summer. Their attempts to lure Steve Bruce away form Birmingham could have yielded quick results a few weeks ago, while the likes of Chris Coleman and Paul Jewell may have been more interested in the post were they not stepping straight into the midst of a grizzly relegation battle.

Any perspective candidate may also feel that the Allardyce era is impossible to improve upon, with European football and untold glory nights at the Reebok Stadium a stunning legacy to a coach who was often maligned by Soccernet's Insider. 'Long Ball Sam' was the master of ruffling the feathers of celebrated opponents like Arsene Wenger, but he did it all with an ugly style of play that made them the enemies of anyone who loved this game.

The as yet unidentified new Bolton manager will be charged with banishing the club's tarnished reputation, while working for a club with a fanbase that does not compare with some League One clubs. In other words, he will be expected to turn a second rate club into winners without too much finance - hardly a job a sane manager would want to take on is it.

After a woeful start to the season, no fixture would have looked appetising for Bolton on this chilly autumnal afternoon, yet a trip to league leaders Arsenal must have sent a shiver down the spines of their modest array of travelling supporters. However, Allardyce's Bolton would have revelled in a game like this and caretaker boss Archie Knox took a page out of the well-worn Wanderers tactics book to tackle the Gunners.

Bolton may not have beaten Arsenal away from home in the league since 1962, but they had a stunning record of scrambling decent results against them over the last decade and they set out at the Emirates Stadium with the sole intention of annoying them into submission. Using a mix of cynical fouls and time-wasting tactics, this was Bolton with their ugly face on once again and Wenger's men were as dumfounded by it as ever. In the battle of beauty and the beast, the baddy looked like he could come out on top.

Without the injured Robin van Persie, the free-flowing Premier League leaders seemed to lack some cohesion and as the half-time whistle blew, Knox and Bolton could consider this mission to wreck a game of football to be a complete success and were it not for a stunning strike from Kolo Toure, they may never have overcome the Bolton wall.

A free-kick some 25 yards from goal hardly looked as if it would result in the goal Arsenal were craving, yet as Toure's blistering shot screamed past keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, Arsenal's exasperation evaporated. It was a brilliant burst of inspiration from one of the unsung heroes of Arsenal's impressive start to the season and the unassuming defender again proved himself to be a scoring threat thanks to his powerful right boot.

A blistering burst of pace from substitute Theo Walcott carved out a second for Arsenal shortly after before the managed to wrap up the points thanks to Tomas Rosicky's 81st minute strike as Arsene Wenger's men again proved that they now have the ability to win games when they don't have it all their own way.

Time and again last season, Arsenal failed to shake off dogged opponents of the type they faced up to in this game, but they have found the key to winning games like this and Wenger reserved special praise for Walcott as he met the media. 'The boy is ready to start in the Premier League now and I'm sure he can be a big player for us this season,' stated Wenger. 'Even though he is on the wing at the moment, I see him as a striker in the long run and his pace and strength is developing all the time.

'Theo is only 18, but now may be his time to step into the team. He is becoming a man and after all the publicity he had to deal with after the World Cup, he realised what it takes to succeed in this game. Life is not easy if you want to be a success at a club like Arsenal and Theo understands this.

'I was so pleased with the way he played after coming off the bench today and this win proves again we have the sort of strength in depth you need to challenge for the title. Bolton made it hard for us as usual, but we found a way to win.'

Caretaker boss Knox claimed his side could take credit for disrupting Arsenal for over an hour, with his frustration at Nicolas Anelka's absence also evident. 'A club like us simply cannot afford to lose a player like that and not feel it against a side like this' stated a man who is wisely uninterested in ended his career as a No.2 by becoming Bolton boss. 'It's a bit annoying that he picked up the injury playing for his country in a place like the Faroe Islands as we will feel the full effect of it when he returns.

'Despite that, I feel we can take something out of a performance that gave Arsenal some problems for 70 minutes. Whoever takes over at this club will inherit a side with plenty of experience players and I have no doubt that they are capable of keeping their head above the relegation zone this season.'

If Bolton resort to the sort of annoying tactics Allardyce built his reputation on in a bid to scramble away from the drop zone, few will care if they fail in their mission to escape the drop.

At least the team trying to play football overcame the fantasy wreckers on this occasion.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Kolo Toure

It was hard to find an outstanding player in a game disrupted by Bolton's industrial approach, so the accolades go to Toure for scoring the crucial opener.

COMMENTARY DISASTER: Joe Swash, an actor from British soap opera EastEnders, was sat just behind me in the press box and was bizarrely given the task of commentating on this game for an unsuspecting radio company. An ardent Arsenal fan, his biased effort behind the microphone was embarrassing in the extreme.

FOOD WATCH: One of my meatiest American fans is a big fan of this entry on The Insider's match reports so just for you, today's culinary delights included a beef stew with new potatoes. Oh and the Emirates Stadium ice cream fridge was raided as usual.

YOU HAD TO LAUGH: Emmanuel Adebayor looked certain to score as he raced clear on goal 14 minutes from time, but after rounding the keeper, he preceded to trip over the ball. It was all very embarrassing.

BOLTON VERDICT: At least the spirit lacking under Sammy Lee's guidance appeared to return, but they lacked any kind of cutting edge without Anelka. Once the initial plan of stopping Arsenal failed to deliver results, they had no back-up. A season of struggle lies ahead, especially if, as expected, Anelka jumps ship in January.

• Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.