If this weekend's draw with Swansea was a step in the right direction, tonight's win was a massive leap. The performance put forth by the men in white tonight was by no means perfect, it wasn't even as good as we know they can be, but the important thing is that it was good enough. Bolton still sit in the relegation zone, but only by one point and they still have one game in hand over the rest of the relegation battle contenders.
Bolton made a nervy start. In spite of the fact that Aston Villa had a central defender in the shape of Stephen Warnock in their midfield, the home side made their intentions known from the off, getting two decent chances in the first five minutes. While all of Bolton's defensive players had good moments throughout the match, they had trouble working as a unit, and Villa's speedy counter attacks exposed this time and time again. Emile Heskey looked quite dangerous in the opening half, and forced Bogdan into several uncomfortable saves. Stephen Warnock was also hungry, both setting up and taking shots, one of them hitting the crossbar. The Whites should really consider themselves lucky that the score was still 0-0 when the halftime whistle blew, as Villa could have easily been at least 2-0 up.
Owen Coyle himself admitted that Aston Villa were the better side in the first half, and claims to have given the lads an "absolute bollocking" at halftime. Whatever he did in that dressing room, it, along with the halftime substitution of Kevin Davies on for Ryo Miyaichi, worked. This put Bolton back into the much maligned 4-4-2 formation, but as soon as the whistle blew for the second half, the dynamic of the match had changed. The Trotters were putting in attacks of their own, and while Villa hadn't quite given up yet it was clear that a little wind had gone from their sails.
In the 60th minute Warnock followed through on his threats of the first half and fired the ball low and hard past Adam Bogdan. This is when, in many matches, Bolton would deflate and eventually capitulate. But they didn't, they pressed forward and just over a minute later, Mark Davies earned a penalty by being brought down by Carlos Cuellar. Martin Petrov put it away decisively with a penalty Shay Given could do absolutely nothing about. Just 50 seconds later, Bolton found themselves in the area again, and an incredible bit of work in the box by Chris Eagles landed the ball at David Ngog's feet, who promptly sent it home.
After that, the game is a blur of nerves. Aston Villa didn't lie down exactly, but in the end it was a well deserved and badly needed win from Bolton. The remaining fixtures of the season are not difficult, and the boys have done themselves a big favour tonight. We're not out of the woods yet, but I can see the light.