What a Christmas present that was, eh? Some how, Bolton came away from the Boxing Day fixture with our dear neighbours, Blackburn Rovers, with all of the three points. It didn't seem that it would end that way at the end of the first half, with Blackburn having dominated for a large amount of the proceedings and going in at the break a goal to the good. But Lennon showed his tactical flexibility to change his tactics and introduced Emile Heskey, who completely changed the game. And we ended up winning!
Ivanhoe hoe hoe, Merry Christmas!
Lets see how the players did!
Andy Lonergan - 5
I'm sorry to say it, but Lonergan has completely shattered all the confidence I had in him with his performance against Blackburn. He was dreadful. In the fist minute he failed to catch the ball which led to Jordan Rhodes hitting the post, that set the precedence for the rest of the game. He flapped at everything that came his way, which if it wasn't for Bolton's bombastic defending and Blackburn's poor finishing, would have been punished. He was weak at corners, concentrating more on Rhodes than the ball, which resulted in several poor punches, his positioning was off and his kicking was bad. To his credit, however, he did make some very good saves, especially when Marshall went through on goal in the first half. But Lonergan's shot stopping abilities have never been in doubt, it's all the other qualities of a goalkeeper that Lonergan was lacking, all the qualities he's improved on massively recently. I'm prepared to say it's just a blip, he did seem to injure his back in the first half, but the Lonergan of old was on display yesterday, and that's the reason Bogdan is the better goalkeeper.
Josh Vela - 8
Just like every other Bolton player on the pitch, Vela started the game quite shakily, with Blackburn's tight pressing and constant hurrying seeming to come as quite a culture shock to him. But after that brief period, Vela settled into the game wonderfully and had his best game in a Wanderers shirt. He was composed and assured on the ball, beating players with ease at points, he was a constant threat down the right hand side and made some rather dangerous crosses. Defensively speaking, he made some very important challenges and didn't allow much to come down his side. It's brilliant to see a youngster fully establish himself in the first team.
Matt Mills - 6
Both Mills and Dervite had a difficult game against the duo of the physically imposing and, most of the time, deadly Rhodes, and the fast and skilful King. In the fist half especially, Mills was dragged all other the place by Rhodes, this coupled with our moderately high line, and centre halves with a lack of pace, led to Blackburn being able to get in behind us on several occasions, which is of course how the goal came to be. But he continued to throw his body in front of everything and make some important challenges.
Dorian Dervite - 6
Tim Ream - 7
Much like his fellow fullback, Ream struggled with the pace and pressure of the Blackburn side, in the early stages, but soon adapted to their style of play. He didn't manage to be as influential in the attacking third of the pitch, as he so often is, but it was at the back where Ream was pivotal. He made some fanatics last gasp challenges to halt several Blackburn attacks, and somehow managed to stop the ball from going in, in that mass scramble in our box towards the end. How? I still have no idea.
Chung-yong Lee - 7
Whilst not as impactful on the game as he has been in recent weeks, Chungy is just an absolute pleasure to watch. He glided across the pitch against Blackburn, being so elegant and articulate on the ball, creating space with his movement. He was unlucky not get on the score sheet, as his goal bound effort was some how blocked on to the cross bar.
Neil Danns - 5
Danns wasn't on it at all on Friday. His touch wasn't as sharp as we've come to know it, his passing was sloppy, and he got caught on the ball far too many times, one of which led to a great chance for Blackburn. Under Lennon, Danns has been the rock in midfield which helps protect the defence, he went missing on Friday and as a result the defence were a lot more exposed. Danns has been stupendous in recent weeks and one of the main reasons we've now gone eight games unbeaten, but he's played a lot of games recently and I think he needs to be rested for a match or two, so he can fully refresh and be ready for the play off push in the new year, because we're going to need him.
Darren Pratley - 9
What can you say about Dazza Prazza eh? Yet another brilliant performance from the all-action midfielder, who has seemed to have won back the heart and minds of Wanderers fans once again. He was every where on Boxing Day, making challenges all over the pitch, using the ball intelligently to get attacks going, and even taking a kick in the head off Emile Heskey for his troubles. I'v often noted that even though he plays well, Pratley rarely makes an impact on a game, well that has changed in recent weeks, as he scored the winner for the second game running. He's becoming a stalwart in our midfield, and he deserves all the praise he's getting for his continued devotion and hard work.
Eidur Gudjohnsen - 8
Eidur Gudjohnsen is on another level. He's quite easily the most intelligent player I've ever seen, you can almost see the quality oozing out of him. He played in an attacking midfield/false nine role against Blackburn, and throughout the game he was weaving passes around defenders and finding team mates in impossible positions. His assist for Heskey is testament to that, as he found Emile at the back post with the outside of his boot. It's a privilege that I can watch this man play for my club, and I can't thank Neil Lennon enough for letting it happen.
Rob Hall - 6
Hall often comes in for a bit of slack, most of it deserved. The last time I saw him play was against Bury in the cup, and on that day he was truly awful, but he's got another opportunity due to the absence of Max Clayton, and I personally think he's having a good go at it. He did alright against Blackburn, he was in a position he isn't accustomed to (basically playing upfront), but he applied him self well, he didn't give up when he got challenged and he was trying to make things happen. Admittedly, he needs to get on the weights, but unlike others, I think if he continues to work hard there may be some hope for him yet.
Liam Feeney - 7
Another winger who is often in the line of some heavy criticism, Feeney, played very well on Friday afternoon. No matter which side he was on, he beat his adversary with relative ease, all his crosses managed to get past the first man and were quite dangerous, and he linked up with those around him nicely, Vela and Gudjohnsen in particular. It's just so frustrating that he can't play like this all of the time.
Emile Heskey - 8
Lennon experimented with a false nine formation in the first half, it's a nice idea that I hope we see again, but a fiercely contested local derby wasn't the place to test it out, and I also don't think Feeney and Hall are the best equipped players to play the strikers/wingers role, we lacked direction in attack, a focal point. So cometh the hour, cometh the Heskey. Emile came on to probable sniggers from Blackburn fans, but he proved them wrong with a barn storming performance. I've never seen a defence simultaneously shit themselves, like Blackburn's did upon his introduction, before, it was marvellous. After one corner, which Heskey nearly cleared the crossbar with his jump on, three Blackburn defenders were arguing amongst themselves and I can only imagine the conversation went something along the liens of:
"Well you fucking mark him then!"
He changed the game for Bolton, he lifted the fans and gave Bolton some direction in attack. Like dear Eidur, he ain't one for running, and he could do with improving his timing for jumps, but he is a real asset to have and I'm sure he'll come in useful as the season wears on. Craig Davies and Conor Wilkinson could certainly learn a thing or two from him. Oh yeah, and he bloody well scored! I still can't wipe the smile of my face at the fact.
Liam Trotter - 6
Trotter came on towards the end of the game to sure up the midfield, and he did a good job, winning headers and making some simple passes. I'd like to see him come in for Danns on Sunday, in order to give Danns a well earned rest.
David Wheater - N/A
Came on with three minutes to go to form a five man defence, and we didn't concede.