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The return of Stuart Holden to action has been anticipated for nigh on two years and we sent our man in the stands to run a keen eye over his performance.

A few hundred hardy souls braved the cold weather and headed up to The County Ground, Leyland ostensibly to see Bolton Reserves take on Oldham Reserves in the Manchester Senior Cup - however the bumper crowd, for this level, were there for one reason only - the return to action of Stuart Holden.

The American midfielder had been out injured for the best part of two years barring an ill-fated cup game against Aston Villa, and so there was a keen sense of anticipation as he took to the field as both midfield lynchpin and captain.

He was cheered and high-fived onto the pitch by eager supporters who had previously been given the disastrous news that the caterers had run out of pies. For a moment there was some tension in the stands as a riot was briefly considered, until the parties involved backed down and bought some weak tea instead.

As the game developed and Holden began to ease his way back in, it was instead his midfield partner Josh Vela who began to dictate play from a slightly deeper position. Vela was sharp in the tackle and positive in possession - I have been watching this lad since he was 16 and he is a real talent. No wonder the rumoured bid from Liverpool in Summer 2011 was rejected.

It seemed that the entire Bolton Wanderers backroom staff were in attendance also, with Jimmy Phillips, Sammy Lee, Julian Darby and Lennie Lawrence being spotted and they cannot fail to have been impressed by the young Whites performance. They were comfortable at all times despite the odd Oldham counter-attack, and deserved to get the victory.

Jack Sampson put the lads 1-0 at half time with a neat turn and left foot finish, with the second and third goals coming from Chris Lester and Tom Eaves respectively.

Dougie Freedman will be encouraged by the levels of fitness shown by the returning Holden and Vela, who managed 65 and 80 minutes before being withdrawn. Once these boys are back in the first team squad alongside Wheater and Mark Davies then there are reasons to be optimistic going into 2013.

Team: Jay Lynch, Niall Maher, Alex McQuade, Oscar Threlkeld, Ben Dennis, Stu Holden, Chris Lester,Josh Vela,Tom Eaves, Jack Sampson and Samni Odelusi.

Subs Joe McKee for Holden and Luke Woodland for Vela