Whilst the powers that be at Sky Sports insist on billing any Bolton vs Blackburn game as a "Lancashire hotpot derby", I had other ideas as I travelled to the Macron Stadium on Monday afternoon.
We started this must-win game pretty brightly, lining up with what I believe is our strongest team at the moment. Prince was drafted in ahead of Dorian Dervite (you know how I feel about him - shithouse) and we welcomed Josh Vela and Mark Davies back into midfield. Wellington was unlucky to miss out from the off, although I'll put that down to him not being totally match fit.
We piled the pressure on early doors and almost made Blackburn pay the price in the first 10 minutes, after a Dean Moxey cross was fired goalward by Zach Clough. Denied by the woodwork, Clough's effort ricocheted off the post and fell to Gary Madine, who found himself unmarked four yards away from goal. I'm genuinely unsure what happened at that point, and I can pretty much guarantee that any player on the pitch would've buried such a clear cut chance from that distance, but not our Gary. He failed to get the ball out of his feet and his feeble attempt was cleared by Blackburn's scrambling defenders.
As the half rolled on, we began to look more and more leggy in midfield. Mark Davies was playing left wing (I'm not really sure why) and he looked like a lost sheep for the majority of the first 45 minutes. We had Casado on the bench and Moxey playing at left back, which left me scratching my head as to why Davies was playing out of position when there were players better placed in said position sat around twiddling their thumbs. Darren Pratley looked tired, Liam Feeney couldn't cross a ball to save his life (no change there) and, on the whole, we looked dejected.
A couple of positives to take from a frankly woeful first half of football were the performances of Rob Holding and David Wheater. Both were absolutely outstanding from start to finish: Wheater making 16 clearances in total and winning 10 out of 14 aerial duels over 90 minutes. Holding played with his heart on his sleeve, blocking every cross and keeping his defending consistent throughout.
One performance I will not commend, however, is that of Jon Moss, today's bastard in black. What a fucking tool this man is. He's a Premier League referee with 16 years experience in the game, 10 of those in the Football League and four in the Premier League, although on Monday afternoon he really did make life difficult for himself. His decisions were repeatedly inconsistent and to me, it seemed as though his ego was hindering his ability to make decisions. Alas, we went in at the break unscathed.
The second half brought a feel of excitement to the Macron that I haven't seen or experienced since we beat Wolves in September. From the word go we looked brighter, hungrier and more committed to winning, however clear cut chances were few and far between and we allowed Blackburn back into the game after starting brightly in the first 10 minutes. One near-comedic moment of note was when Ben Amos smashed a clearance into the midriff of Prince, who'd failed to get out of the way after being told to do so. The Frenchman didn't have his best game today - he looked shaky and calamitous for the majority of the 90 minutes - although he did make a couple of crucial tackles towards the end. I hope he plays on Saturday against Huddersfield; Lennon shouldn't change a winning team.
Midway through the second half the game went a bit flat, giving the visitors and opportunity to spring from the back foot onto the front one. They peppered our goal for some time as we defended corner after corner - but we held firm and weathered the storm.
As time ticked on, I contemplated us squandering yet another opportunity to win at home. As my thoughts drifted to Saturday's game against Huddersfield and the chicken curry I had planned for my tea, a crossfield pass from Rob Holding allowed Dean Moxey to earn a throw-in around 20 yards into the Blackburn half. The left back acted quickly, seizing the ball and launching it into the box for Gary Madine. After his earlier miss and general lacklustre performance in front of goal I didn't expect much, but the lad proved me wrong once again. Taking the ball on his chest, he turned and volleyed home in fine fashion to give Wanderers the lead 12 minutes from time. The Macron erupted. Get in there!
By God, how we needed that goal. It was then, as you can probably imagine, backs to the wall for the last 10, plus five minutes added time. I very nearly shit myself when a deflected Blackburn shot pinged against the inside of Ben Amos' left-hand post with just a couple of minutes to go, but somehow the ball didn't cross the line. The ground really was bouncing, every Bolton fan joining in with the chanting of The Great Escape theme tune, belief oozing from every nook and cranny.
When that final whistle finally went, I was genuinely close to tears. Boxing Day's performance was absolutely woeful and we really needed something to pick us up, otherwise it really could've been curtains. A win against all odds in a local derby in front of the Sky cameras is immense. Each and every player did everything they possibly could to ensure we won today, and with the news that the players and staff are likely to be paid tomorrow, things really could be looking up for our beloved Bolton Wanderers.
What a day. What a game. Unbelievable. Three points on Saturday against Huddersfield? I think so.