First and foremost, it is important to take from this game that Bolton is still very decidedly Bolton. Dougie Freedman, whatever else he may be, is not a fairy godmother, and this is still a squad with many problems, which need to be addressed, coached, and probably changed quite a bit. It's important to remain realistic and not put too much pressure on a club which remains in a tough spot. There is still a lot of season to go, and one game does not a campaign make.
With that out of the way: what a match! It was, as the cliche goes, a game of two halves. The opening period can be summed up in one word: dull. Dougie started the team in a 4-2-3-1 formation, letting Keith Andrews and Darren Pratley lock down the midfield in back, while Chris Eagles, Chung-Yong Lee, and Mark Davies sat behind Kevin Davies in support. This did seem effective, as while Cardiff might've edged Bolton as the better side, neither team really got a grip on the game.
With the exception of a weak penalty shout for Bolton as Eagles was barged in the box, neither side put together anything meaningful until the 40th minute, when Cardiff City took the lead. It was a very Bolton goal to concede, there was confusion in the Bolton box as the concept of 'marking' broke down again, and Craig Noone sent the ball home from the edge of the box, past Adam Bogdan. While it's true, there were quite a few players in the way, even so Bogdan's reaction seemed slow.
The goal did seem to remind the Wanderers that they were actually meant to be playing football, but the half time whistle blew without further incident. As Bolton fans are used to now, the boys emerged from the tunnel a different side indeed, although against the norm, they were better than in the first half. Chung-Yong had the first convincing chance of the half, forcing David Marshall to fist the shot away. Chungy wasn't anywhere near the level he was before the injury, but it was again another decent performance from him.
This prompted a series of attacks from the Wanderers, with Andrews and Eagles both getting chances in. After Eagles' shot from 25 yards out, which got a save from Marshall, in the 52nd minute, Cardiff once again got into the match, getting a series of corners, but in perhaps the most surprising aspect of the match, the Bolton defense dealt with it competently.
This prompted Dougie to make his first substitution of his Bolton tenure, taking Pratley off for Martin Petrov, in an offensive mood, which changed the formation more to a 4-5-1. Seven minutes late, Kevin Davies came off for David Ngog, which was arguably the move of the match. Two minutes after coming on, Ngog justified the move by scoring a goal, which the officials called back for offside, though replays show it was very much onside.
The Wanderers didn't let that dampen their spirits, with Ngog putting in the best performance he has had in a very very long time. In the 69th minute, he made up for the goal that wasn't by earning Bolton a penalty. In fairness, Ngog did go down pretty softly under Kim Bo-Kyung, but nonetheless a penalty was awarded. Petrov made no mistakes when he stepped up to the spot, and sent the keeper the wrong way, bring Bolton level with their guests.
Just 5 minutes later, Ngog gave Bolton the lead, picking up a miscued Sam Ricketts' shot and putting it past Marshall. If anything, this only fueled Cardiff's fire, and it was a nervy final 15 minutes. Chungy, who was already on a yellow card, put in a clumsy tackle, which may have prompted Bolton's final substitution of the match, putting Tim Ream on for Chungy. This was a defensive substitution from Dougie, having made 2 offensive minded ones earlier in the half, and it proved to be tactically the correct decision.
Craig Noone was a menace to the Bolton defense, who did show some of their characteristic shakiness, but most importantly they did not concede. The final five minutes were what can only be described as 'squeaky bum time'. In the 90th minute, after an incredible performance as a substitute, Ngog got himself sent off for a second yellow card. A few minutes later, Bolton hearts were once again in Bolton throats, as Stephen Warnock brought Mark Hudson down in the box. Scuffle ensued, but the ref didn't award anything. Cardiff keeper Marshall took a free kick, which forced Bogdan into a save.
It's safe to say all Wanderers were relieved when the final whistle blew. This is a fantastic result for the Wanderers, and a good start for Dougie Freedman's Bolton. There's no doubt that Bolton still has a lot to work on, but if they can show the spirit and tenacity they did this match, then there might be hope after all.