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Analysing Diafra Sakho’s goalscoring return for West Ham against Bolton

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Diafra Sakho

Slaven Bilic’s West Ham United barely broke a sweat in their Carabao Cup Third Round tie, easing into the hat for the Fourth Round with a 3-0 over early Championship strugglers Bolton Wanderers at London Stadium.

Angelo Ogbonna, Diafra Sakho, and Arthur Masuaku were all on the scoresheet for the Hammers, Senegalese international Sakho repaying manager and fans with an impressive performance on his recall to the side despite declaring his intentions to leave the club over the summer, featuring as a lone striker flanked by wingers Andre Ayew and the impressive Marko Arnautovic.

Sakho and Arnautovic linked well for the majority of the night, and their chemistry showed its first glimpse as early as the fourth minute, Sakho winning a free-kick which Arnautovic duly stood over out on the right wing.

The Austrian played a perfect ball into the box, and with Sakho amongst others making nuisance of himself in the box, it allowed Angelo Ogbonna the time and space to surge into the area unopposed for a free header which he powered into the goal to give the hosts an early lead.

Sakho then almost turned provider for Arnautovic later in the first-half, latching onto Mark Noble’s clipped ball forward and holding up the ball expertly against Bolton defender Mark Beevers, before laying the ball on for Arnautovic to strike, who saw his initial effort blocked before his follow up effort was parried away by goalkeeper Mark Howard.

Sakho’s movement and hold-up play was beginning to cause Bolton all sorts of problems, and he showed off a glimpse of his ability to run the channels also. Played in down the left, he raced clear of defender Andrew Taylor and cut inside onto the edge of the penalty box before checking back onto his right foot and playing in the onrushing Andre Ayew, who could only drag his first-time effort wide of the right post.

With unwanted profligacy in front of goal seeming to set in, and unwilling to allow that to hand the visitors a route back into the contest, Sakho himself showed his teammates the route to goal with just over half an hour on the clock.

Noble, another impressive performer on the night, played a well weighted clipped ball through to Arnautovic who’d found a pocket of space down the left with acres of space to gallop forward.

Venturing inside, he laid the ball left-footed off for Sakho inside the penalty area, who had the simple task of finishing beyond Howard to put the hosts two goals ahead before the break. His celebration was muted, as he wandered over the byline to thank his teammate.

Sakho was notably quieter after the break, which mirrored West Ham’s team performance in the second-half, with chances fewer and further between until the forward made way for Javier Hernandez on 71 minutes.

The Hammers went on to finish the job in stoppage time, Arthur Masuaku being allowed the time and space on the left of the penalty area to pick his spot and send a left-footed pile-driver into the top right corner and complete Bolton’s misery in East London.

Although Sakho is almost certain to depart the club at the end of the season, if not in January, his hardworking team performance on Tuesday will remind Slaven Bilic that the want-away forward still has something to offer his side, for unlike popular belief, it appears the forward is not willing to allow his desire to leave the club impede his performances.

His performance also says a great deal about the strength in depth of this West Ham side when the players are performing, and the Hammers could prove to be a dark horse in this competition in the hat for the next round.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

Arsenal

Can Bolton Wanderers’ Rob Holding flourish under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal?

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To say that times have been tough for Bolton Wanderers over the past few years would be an understatement. In just a couple of weeks the Trotters will kick off their League One campaign at home to Sheffield United, just over four years after being relegated from the Premier League. During that time, the club has undergone a number of managerial changes, the sad death of their chairman, as well as flirting with administration on more than one occasion. There have been few highlights along the way, with players becoming disgruntled at not getting paid as the club sank like a stone on its way to a disastrous 24th-placed finish in the Championship last campaign.

Through all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Macron Stadium has risen 20-year-old defender Rob Holding. Whilst many of his more experienced teammates failed to stand up and be counted last term, the youngster came out of nowhere to provide a spark of hope during what is surely a dark age for many Bolton supporters. Holding only made his debut last August, in a 1-0 defeat to Burton Albion in the League Cup, but managed to pick up the club’s Player of the Season just nine months later. A big future lies ahead and a number of  Premier League clubs have expressed an interest in signing him, including a £2 million bid from Arsenal this week, which has subsequently been accepted by the Trotters.

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The approval of Arsene Wenger is huge for any youngster, but the news of the Gunners interest has also surprised many this week. Not least Arsenal supporters, who were expecting the club to pursue a big-name centre-back, not one who has made just 31 career appearances, with none of those being above Championship level. Laurent Koscielny’s performances in the European Championships this summer have consolidated him as one of the continent’s best in his position, and many supporters believe that another centre-back of a similar calibre, as well as a clinical goalscorer, would give them a good chance of challenging for the league title. Holding does not fit this description just yet, and it would be fair to say that many would be somewhat underwhelmed if he were to be the only defender signed this transfer window.

Nevertheless, Holding is tipped to have a big future in the game with Everton and Bournemouth two of the clubs rumoured to have been interested in his signature. He has been compared to England defender Gary Cahill, and although this may merely be due to the fact that Cahill was also at Bolton, it shows just how highly-rated he is in some quarters. Whether he can make it at the Emirates Stadium is a different matter, with Calum Chambers being an example of a young defender who has struggled to make a real impact during his time with the Gunners.

Of course, it is not expected that he will be first choice should he make the move to the Emirates, but with a lot of talk that Chambers will be heading out on loan, Wenger may see Holding as a like-for-like replacement as Arsenal’s fourth-choice centre-back. The Frenchman has a preference for players comfortable with the ball at their feet and Holding certainly fits the mould. His composure on the ball belies his tender years and in that respect the move makes a lot of sense.

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With Per Mertesacker now 31 and there still being a number of doubts surrounding Gabriel, it is not unfeasible that he could force his way into the first eleven, but with Wenger expected to bring in another defender it would appear as though Holding will have to bide his time before making his big break at the club. He is still extremely inexperienced but possesses a strong set of attributes that Wenger can work with.

Holding’s performances last season attracted the attention of England Under-21s manager Gareth Southgate, who called him up to his squad for this summer’s Toulon Tournament, which England eventually went on to win. Although many Bolton supporters were hopeful that the defender would stay with the club he has been with since the age of seven, they will certainly not begrudge him the chance to make the switch to North London, providing the deal is right for the Whites.

The tendency for clubs to scour the lower leagues for talent has increased in recent years following the success of the likes of John Stones and Dele Alli, who were signed for relatively modest fees but have gone on to excel in the top flight. Whether Holding can enjoy similar success is a big ask but the fact that Wenger seems to think he is capable of it stands him in very good stead.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Emrah Partal

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Is Bolton’s resolve to hang onto Rob Holding only delaying the inevitable?

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Highly rated Bolton Wanderers defender Rob Holding, an England Under-21 international is once again the centre of transfer speculation after Bournemouth are the latest club to have a bid for the 20-year old rejected Arsenal are another club linked with the player. Bolton value Holding at around £5 million with the Gunners making a roughly £2 million offer for the player according to the Daily Mail back in May, with one year left to run on his contract.

Everton and Bournemouth were thought to be interested in the player but were yet to make an official approach until reports from the Bolton Mail that Bournemouth had been rebuffed by the Lancashire side on Wednesday, with Bolton desperate to maximise Holding’s value given the precarious financial position of the club following its exit from administration.

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Reading had a £750,000 bid rejected during the January transfer window for the versatile Holding who forced his way into Bolton’s first team in 2015-16, making 26 appearances. Bolton took up an option to extend his contract but the Championship seems a far more lucrative destination for the promising youngster rather than ply his trade in League One with the Trotters.

Bolton are still struggling to raise funds after Dean Holdsworth’s Sports Shield consortium took control of the troubled club and are under immense pressure to sell the likes of Holding and other young stars such as Zach Clough to keep the club afloat. Large earners like Emile Heskey and Eidur Gudjohnsen have already been forced off the books with the club finding itself hands tied and in dire need of slashing the wage bill.

It is likely that the club is turning away approaches for their asset not with the intention of keeping him at the club, but merely in anticipation of the right offer. Their valuation of the player and the fee they receive will be vital for the club’s immediate future and new manager Phil Parkinson along with the club’s new hierarchy simply cannot afford to allow their player to leave for any less than the right price.

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Following the takeover and the majority of their supposed £172.9m worth of debt written off by new board member Eddie Davies, Bolton fans should be looking forward to a new chapter and a chance to rebuild go again in the third tier. However what has become apparent is that it will still be testing times at the Macron Stadium as the club tightens its purse strings, and Holding is just one of a few of the clubs promising youngsters who will be forced to make way for the good of the club.

It is only a matter of time as the Lancashire side hold out for the right offer, and they will be biting their nails hoping that it comes sooner rather than later so that Phil Parkinson can begin to assemble a budget squad and identify the areas in need of recruitment. It has been a dark period for the former top flight club, and only time will tell if there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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Is this what is in store for Bolton Wanderers and former boss Neil Lennon?

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Neil Lennon is gone, and now Bolton could be in an even bigger mess on the pitch than they were before. When taking the job on back in October 2014, there was a huge element of doubt from around the country as to whether he could be a success, given his only previous job in management was Celtic, a team who more often than not, will win the league and/or domestic cup, with little or no difficulty. So, now he has vacated his position, maybe instead of assessing just how well or poor of a job he’s done, the questions should be, should he have got the job in the first place?

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Neil Lennon took over at Celtic on a temporary basis in March 2010 following Tony Mowbray’s dismissal and immediately came out and openly criticised the squad, claiming a lack of hunger and desire was to blame for their very average season. He did however lead them to a 100% winning streak in the league, but saw the side knocked out by Ross County in the cup.

Despite two manager of the month awards, Lennon’s Celtic could only lift one trophy in his first full season, the Scottish Cup. The squad had seen a complete overhaul of players in the summer, with £15.9 million worth of players departing, and in for them came players of little or no fame, such as Gary Hooper from Scunthorpe, costing a rather high £2.4 million. However, Lennon; who would have been disappointed to lose the league by just a point, had started a new era for the club. The club legend knew he had to rebuild, if Celtic were to become a force not just in Scotland, but in the European competitions too.

The following season wasn’t much better though. Lennon succeeded in winning his first SPL title, by a clear 20 points (although Rangers who were second, fell into administration and had 10 points deducted), but again failed to lift any other silverware. They reached the Europa League group stages, but only because their qualifying opponents; FC Sion, were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player (Sion won the original tie 3-1 on aggregate). They could not capitalise on their good fortune, and after a 1-1 draw at Udinese, Celtic were out of Europe again.

However, the 2012/13 season was a big year. Not only did Celtic regain the league title as well as winning the Scottish cup, but Lennon masterminded an incredible 2-1 win against Barcelona at Celtic Park, which led to the club reaching the knock-out stages of the Champions League. They were well beaten by Juventus home and away, but Lennon had shown that he could maybe achieve great things with the club if given the time.

However, despite walking the league again in 2013/14, the club failed in the cup competitions, and finished bottom of their group in the Champions League. So, had he done enough there to be a realistic success at Bolton Wanderers?

Well, most would probably compare the size of the two clubs and argue that there is no reason he shouldn’t do well, but; bar one good season in the Champions League, he’s barely managed to lift the minimum of trophies. It’s no secret that the competition for the SPL is very small, with only Celtic and Rangers ever reigning victorious. So when Rangers fell into administration and dropped out of the league, nobody but Celtic were realistically going to challenge for the top honours.

Therefore, Lennon should have focused his time on knock-out competitions. It was an opportunity to make a real statement and become a truly dominating side. They have everything there to do it. They fantastic facilities, an incredible stadium, and consistently attract nearly 60,000 fans every week. Yet still, they continue to be the whipping boys in Europe, and lose arguably because of complacency against lesser teams in the Scottish cups.

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Now after a miserable period in the Championship, which admittedly he shouldn’t be held fully accountable for, given all the off field drama at Bolton, he’s out of work again, and looking back at his short managerial career so far, there is nothing to suggest he will walk into a decent job any time soon. So what now for Lennon, and Bolton Wanderers?

There are early reports Lennon could return to Celtic to replace current boss Ronny Deila. If this materialises, then surely he will be laughing to have a second chance at such a big club. Bolton on the other hand; who will almost certainly be playing in League 1 in 2016/17, must resist looking for a quick but expensive option. They need to take their time about who they appoint, forget the rest of this season, and start planning for next year. The club have been on a huge decline, but they have to look forward in a positive manner.

Ironically, I believe they should look at Neil Lennon’s time at Celtic as an example. He took his time to get his team to be competitive on all fronts, and although it didn’t quite end the way he would have liked, he set a very good example on how to rebuild. The pressure will be high on whoever takes over first team duties next season, but the board must put trust in their man, or else risk stagnation in the lower leagues of English football.


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