It was a bitterly cold Tuesday night up at The Macron, but the men in white managed to warm the hearts of many a Wanderer, with a dominant, composed and intense dispatching of Cardiff City.
The game was touted before hand as another difficult test for Neil Lennon's men, considering the fact Cardiff were a Premier League team last season, have some very talented players and have recently been buoyed by a new manager them selves, but it proved not to be the case.
The intensity, which was so sorely lacking against Norwich, was back for Neil Lennon's second home game, as Bolton's pressing game was fantastic, Cardiff didn't know what had hit them with their best and most technical players not getting a sniff all game. We attacked with pace and vigour, but also composure, taking the time to pick out the right pass and not rushing things. And we defended, for the most part, very comfortably, with a real sense of resilience.
The game was one of the best Bolton performances in years, long may it continue.
Andy Lonergan - 8
Yet another assured display in-between the sticks from Lonergan. Although Cardiff rarely troubled him for large periods of the game, he kept his concentration levels high throughout and was on hand to deal with everything that came his way. He handled every hopefully, long range Cardiff effort with ease, was out quick off his line when Federicho Macheda ghosted past the defence, and made a superb, clawing save to deny Nicky Maynard's bending header. With Adam Bogdan due to return to fitness soon, he's got a hell of his fight on his hands to reclaim the number one spot.
Josh Vela - 7
Although playing in a very unfamiliar right back position, Vela looked right at home in a Bolton Wanderers shirt. Defensively speaking, he was a bit shaky, especially positionally as he quite often looked as if he was caught between two minds on whether he should stand off or close down. But he held his own, cleared his lines when he had to and contested every header. With the ball, however, is where Vela truly shined. For a lad making his first appearance in the team for God knows how long, he had an untold amount of composure and had no qualms at all with holding and using the ball, contrast with Threlkeld on Friday who appeared very nervous. He passed the ball with a certain swagger, be it along his back line or an accurate long ball to C Davies, and he was up and down the touchline all game supporting Feeney. I think the best example of Vela's maturity was in the build up for the third goal, when a corner came back to him he didn't panic or rush, he kept hold of the ball, made simple passes, which eventually led to the ball going into the back of the net. He more than deserves to keep his place for the derby, and I hope for one that we get to see him in his natural position.
Matt Mills - 9
After his horror show on Friday night, Mills came back to form with an immense, captain's performance. He lead the team from the back against Cardiff, especially in regards with helping out and covering the inexperienced Vela. He won practically everything in the air, even with his heel at one point, anticipated passes and crosses, snuffing out danger before it was even obvious, and he should probably let Adam Le Fondre out of his pocket now. Topping the performance off with a well taken, sweeping finish, to become joint top goal scorer, not a bad night's work at all.
Dorian Dervite - 6.5
Whilst Dervite, just about, managed to do everything he needed to on Tuesday night, he seemed to be playing to a slightly different beat to the rest of the side. It was nothing too major and I'm sure it's just a small speed bump, but he seemed to make a few little, daft mistakes: miss timing headers, getting in the way of team mates, giving the ball away, losing the ball in the area and so on.
Tim Ream - 8
Another welcomed to return to form, after the extremely disappointing performance on Friday, Tim Ream was back to his best against the
Red Blue Birds. Both sides of his games were massively improved: defensively speaking he looked calmer than on Friday, he made some vital interceptions with both his head and his feet, especially in the first half when had to slide in to divert the ball away from an onrushing attacker, and he was constantly harassing and pressing his opponent all night, never giving them time to think on the ball and retaining possession on several occasions. Attacking wise he was excellent, he was hugging the touchline all night in support of the skilfully limited Pratley. He was a constant outlet throughout, and with his intricate passing, made us very dangerous down the left hand side.
Liam Feeney - 7.5
Scoring your first two goals for the club ain't half a good way to stake your claim in staying in the starting XI. It was a decent performance from Feeney, especially in the first half, in which he scored two brilliantly taken goals, both really impressive with the improvisation in which he scored them, and was a constant menace down the right hand side, winning several corners. However, I felt his crossing was quite poor, and he faded in the second half. He was moved up front to partner Davies, and fluffed his lines twice when he had the opportunity to break the curse of Joe Mason.
Mark Davies - 3
Apparently, Davies was suffering from double vision during the game which is why he was substituted, it would also help explain his abject performance. He gave the ball away on several occasion and had no real direction in any of his dribbling. I'm a holder of the belief that Davies should be used as an impact sub for a bit, as he was used against Brentford, and I think that would suit everyone at the moment, as it would allow Davies to take it easier and not risk another injury, it will allow Lee to have more freedom as Davies won't be taking his space and we'll have a real attacking threat who can change a game available from off the bench.
Neil Danns - 9
In my humble opinion, Danns was the man of the match, and he didn't half fight of some competition. He seems to feel right at home in a new defensive midfield role, where his composure and skill on the ball helps the team retain possession and move attacks forward. More so than other defensive midfielders in the past, he relieves pressure off the back line because he is actually able to keep hold of the ball and pick a forwards pass. He didn't stop running all night, and the defensive side of his game is improving, as he made a few excellently timed, full blooded challenges.
Darren Pratley - 8
That may just have been Darren Pratley's best performance in a Bolton shirt. But he didn't do anything extraordinary, no amazing skill, no sensational goal, he just did the basics very, very well. He marched up and down the touchline all night, he used the ball intelligently, epitomised with his drive infield and lay off to Lee for the opener, although there was still room for a typical Pratley overhit cross, and maybe most important of all, he didn't give away any stupid free kicks like he's become so accustomed to recently.
Chung-yong Lee - 8
Who'd have thought giving Lee the freedom to roam across the attacking third of the pitch and the freedom to attack would work wonders, eh? Thankfully for us all, Neil Lennon did what every manager previous didn't, almost instantly, and what remarkable results we're seeing. Lee was terrific again in the gap of space between the striker and the midfield, being able to seek out space, support attackers who needed an other option, and always being at the forefront of Bolton's attacks. His effort levels were high, as always, defending from the front by pressing and winning back the ball, which led to our second goal, and he set up the opener with a brilliant pass into Feeney. It's going to be real heartbreaking when he leaves for a free in the summer.
Craig Davies - 9
Well, he was pretty good, wasn't he? Craig played like a man possessed, not seeming to tire at all despite his incredible battle with Cardiff centre back, Bruno Manga, which was a breath taking display of strength, speed and persistence, from both parties. Although Manga matched him for large periods, into the second half Craig started to dominate, using his body to get in-between the ball and the defender and holding it up in wait for support. His contribution to the team is really priceless, him being able to keep hold of the ball in the way he does just releives pressure off everybody else and allows us to attack in numbers. It's just a real damn shame that he just doesn't have that goalscorer's knack, that ability to anticipate where the ball will be and react to it fastest, if he did he would have bagged himself a brace against Cardiff, and probably many more goals down the years. Every other aspect of his game was exceptional, he's just not a goal scorer, but, if he continues to lead the line in that fashion and others around him are able to grab the goals, it'll be alright.
Jay Spearing - 6
Coming on to replace Mark Davies, Spearing looked a little uncomfortable in the midfield at first, not helped by him making some poor passes not long after his introduction. But he settled his nerves as the game went on and did okay, he kept the ball moving and made some important tackles. A little thing, but I like how he didn't take the armband back off Mills, even though Mills offered.
Max Clayton - 7
Another promising cameo from the young striker, as he made his first meaningful contribution to the team with an excellent turn inside the penalty area and a pass to Mills to set up the third goal. He's still very raw, his dribbling and touch is especially ropey, but there is definite potential there.
Jermaine Beckford - N/A
Bring on the pie eaters!