Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Bending the rules
The day before this match, Leicester City boss Micky Adams allowed a complete stranger to give his team some counselling.
Scorer Les Ferdinand is congratulated by Steffen Freund. (RossKinnaird/GettyImages)
A man, known only as 'Tom' from London, turned up at the club's training ground and refused to leave until he had spoken to Adams.
The manager then allowed him to address his players in the canteen for 15 minutes and told him to give him a call if Leicester won this match.
Adams should accept his offer, despite the fact his relegation strugglers had to settle for a point against in-form Bolton.
Perhaps 'Tom' will be able to use his counselling skills to explain exactly when off-side is off-side.
Certainly, the events of this evening will be debated for some time to come.
Before the Insider attempts to bring some clarity to an issue which is set to dominate football chat for, at least, the remainder of the season, total credit must go to Sam Allardyce's Bolton who exploited the recently introduced regulation to the off-side law to the maximum and used the ploy to force a deserved draw.
Allardyce admitted his side - surely the team of the season so far, along with Charlton Athletic - hadn't played that well.
But with half a team ruled out by injury, and the inspirational Jay Jay Okocha on African Nations Cup duty, Bolton, in Allardyce's own words 'dug out a result' to continue their impressive run.
The manager said he was 'very pleased with his players' efforts' but is less pleased by the new regulation, even though he ensured his side used it to their advantage.
Even before Bolton's 32nd minute equaliser, the issue had proved to be the main talking point.
Kevin Nolan, was unfortunate to strike the post from Youri Djorkaeff's flighted free-kick but the talented midfielder was stood in an off-side position when the kick was taken.
However, with the rule implying that he was not interfering with play, Nolan then retreated before moving forward again to become the first player to touch the ball from the free-kick - almost producing a goal.
It was a move Bolton used again minutes later, resulting in the equaliser.
And while there was no excuse for Ian Walker's error which gifted the goal, Bolton's tactics clearly unsettled and possibly distracted the former England goalkeeper.
As another Djorkaeff free-kick was delivered, Bolton players were in an off-side position but deemed not interfering with play.
As they retreated and then moved in again, Kevin Davies was close to converting the ball although when Walker grasped it to his body, both the Bolton striker, a number of players, and spectators, including myself, turned away, awaiting the goal-kick.
So, it was somewhat of a surprise when the ball quickly materialised in the back of the net after Walker fumbled it under his body and accidentally knocked it over the line with his leg as he turned around.
It was a mistake which will be shown on blooper videos for years to come for the unfortunate goalkeeper, but Bolton's free-kick ploy had, to a point, proved successful.
Before that, Leicester had led through Les Ferdinand's expert 15th minute opener - the goal preventing further debate after TV showed his initial header had crossed the line before it was palmed out by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Then in an evenly contested match, the quietly effective figure of Ivan Campo went close with a header, while determined Leicester captain Paul Dickov nearly regained the home side's lead only to be marginally off-side from Ferdinand's flick.
Lilian Nallis also went extremely close as half-time approached, while Jaaskelainen produced the save of the night to deny Dickov following a well-worked short-corner routine soon after the re-start.
Chances remained few though and, while the impressive Emerson Thome, made an important clearance late on - the danger emanating as Gerry Taggart copied the ploy against his former club from a Leicester free-kick - it was Bolton who looked the more composed side.
Substitute Callum Davidson did threaten a winner, but the honours were deservedly shared.
I think FIFA have got it horribly wrong. The way we used it upset Leciester, their fans and we could have scored more from it.
— Sam Allardyce
Two performances worthy of note were that of veterans Djorkaeff and Ferdinand.
The one-time England international, who also earned Leicester a point at Bolton with a last-minute equaliser in December - worked well in tandem with Dickov up front and always tried to give the home side an attacking outlet.
Djorkaeff, meanwhile, displayed his attributes, displaying all the touch of a World Cup winner, but also harrying and closing down opponents - how many foreign players have come to England and done that on a chilly evening in February?!
In fact, Djorkaeff nearly scored inside five minutes, chesting down a long free-kick and forcing an good block from Walker.
Ultimately, the talking point will be about the off-side rule, described after the match by Adams as 'a nonsense' and a 'mockery'.
The final word though should go to the refreshingly honest Allardyce who admitted he'd looked at the new regulations and, while he doesn't like them, tried to utilise them to his benefit.
He said it wasn't the fault of officials who had to interpret them and urged the FA to advocate FIFA over what could just turn out to be the biggest controversy of an already action-packed 2003/04.
We await with interest, while Allardyce and his players can now head to Dubai for a deserved sunshine break.
Quote of the match (Sam Allardyce): 'They (the rules) are a detraction from the game.
'I think FIFA have got it horribly wrong. The way we used it upset Leciester, their fans and we could have scored more from it. (What happened tonight) shows the rule up.'
Injury news: Per Frandsen made a welcome return to the Bolton side, just three days after limping off against Liverpool and seemingly ruled out. Leicester, who have Muzzy Izzet still to return, lost the services of the lively Marcus Bent with a hamstring injury just before half-time.
Insider view: This was a strong first eleven as far as relegation candidates Leicester City are concerned but home draws will soon have to become victories if the Foxes are to survive.