Bolton Wanderers finally managed to overcome a run of some turgid results by scraping to a 1-0 win over Chris Houghton's Brighton. It was a very scrappy and well contested game, as the often bewildering referee let a lot of challenges go and it led to a battle of an affair at points, with tackles flying in everywhere.
As such, the match was lacking in a lot of quality attacks, and whilst Bolton were looking a whole lot more solid in defence and composed on the ball, it looked as if the game might well drag out to a drab 0-0.
Thankfully, however, we had that one bit of quality that set us apart from our opponents, and of course it came, once again, from Zach Clough. With his goal and a tiny sprinkling of luck at the other end of the pitch, we managed to come away from the game with the whole three points.
Here's how I thought the players did:
Ben Amos - 8
In the absence of our first two choice goalkeepers, Ben Amos has been the man tasked with job of filling in for them until they return from injury - and he is yet to disappoint. His performance against Brighton was dominant, which sent a calming influence to the rest of the team. His shot stopping was strong, he was big and timely when he needed to come off his line and his distribution was accurate. His contract at Manchester United comes to an end this summer, and I'm beginning to hope that we sign him up.
Josh Vela - 8
I commented recently how Vela was yet to impress me whilst playing in midfield, well, he did today. He was already having a fairly solid game at right back, not much was getting past him and he was constantly advancing up the wing and attacking well. But in the second half he was pushed further forward into midfield, and he was brilliant. His drive and energy going forward made all the difference in the second half, and it was his calmly played pass which set up the winner. Two academy graduates combining for a goal, how good does that sound?
Matt Mills 7
Back from his suspension after being foolishly sent off against Nottingham Forest, Saturday saw a very mature, captain performance from Mills - even if he was a little rusty. He led from the back well, commanding the back line, and didn't rush in and make any stupid challenges. He did miss the ball in the area a few times however, but Wheater was on hand to clean up after him. A solid return to the side, and hopefully he gets his season back on track after this speed bump.
David Wheater - 10
No ladies and gents, that isn't a typo, I've actually given a player a ten. David Wheater was honestly astounding against Brighton, one of the best individual, defensive performances I've seen from a player in a Bolton shirt in quite a while. He was a human wall, making four tackles, four interceptions, four clearances and three blocks over the course of the ninety minutes. And that's not even mentioning how calm he was on the ball, how much he cleaned up other players' mishaps, how he blocked a shot off the line and then was in the position to block a further two had it got to that. He was truly excellent, and I can only hope we see even more of these types of performances from him.
Tim Ream - 7
The American returned from being stretchered off last week, and he fit straight back in to the team, putting in a decent performance. He was dependable at the back, making a few good tackles, though he seemed to have spent the most of his time in the attacking third of the pitch. He was great on the ball, opting to drift inside with it quite a lot to give Bannan space on the left and try and pick out passes in the middle. He actually had one of our two shots on target in the first half, an effort that drew a deep gasp of wonderment from my lips as he hit it, but alas the goalkeeper caught it easily. He will score one day, and that day will be the best day of my life.
Liam Feeney - 3
I'm often a resolute Feeney defender, but today's performance from him was dreadful. He was weak on the ball, his touch and decision making was poor. He also squandered many of good move as hardly any of his crosses hit the target, with all of them either being overhit, going straight into the 'keepers arms or being easily dealt with. His usually decent set piece delivery was also wayward too, as every corner he took didn't manage to beat the first man. He was moved to right back in the second half, which reflects how poor he was doing, and then left the field early due to picking up an injury.
Neil Danns - 6.5
The midfielder's form has dropped off quite significantly of late, and whilst this performance was no where near the standard I've come to expect from him, it was certainly much improved from recent games. He moved the ball on a lot quicker in the middle of the park, which led to us playing at a higher tempo, plus he was a lot more solid defensively. However, he did get caught out a couple of times, and he did occasionally needlessly dive in, which could have cost us had he timed it wrong.
Barry Bannan - 8
That was the best I've seen Bannan play in a Bolton shirt. He was very elegant and gracious on the ball, and articulate with his passing, which was a stark contrast to how much he battled in the middle of the park. He kept the ball moving quickly with his passing, and he very rarely put a foot wrong. I freely admit that it seems I'm going to be proved extremely wrong on all I tweeted about Bannan prior to his signing, although the jury is still very much out. I feel he does need to start making a bigger impact on games, plus I don't think his set piece delivery has been all it was hyped to be either. But any ways, his perfomance was very good and I'm happy that I'm being proved wrong.
Zach Clough - 7
Whilst Clough did have a quiet game by his rapidly increasing standards, he was still the difference at the end of the day. His turn and then remarkably cool finish was first class, and it displayed a maturity of a player well beyond his years. I don't know if a 19 year old being our best player is a good or bad thing, but one thing is for sure - it's bloody exciting.
Adam Le Fondre - 6
It was yet another quiet game from Le Fondre, he wasn't helped by the often awful referee giving him no protection in the slightest, as he was fouled at least six times, but I don't really remember him ever touching the ball. He led the line valiantly however, working hard and constantly harrying the defenders. His biggest contribution of the game was when he was fouled in the build up to the goal, but play went on and he some how managed to get the ball to Vela, who played in Clough.
Emile Heskey - 6
Much like Le Fondre, Heskey also leads the line well and his power and ariel presence gives us another option if need be, but he also had a quiet game up top. However, he did win the flick on from Amos' long punt which led to the only goal of the game. But it can't be denied that his highlight of his game was probably when he lost his footing and went flying into a Brighton player like an unorthodox torpedo. I almost had to look away as I saw the event unfold before my eyes, because man, that was a massive impact. It was bloody hilarious.
Kevin McNaughton - 6
It was weird seeing McNaughton involved after Lennon's midweek comments on how he wasn't fit enough, but maybe that was just a ploy to get the best out of KMN when he finally did get his chance. The right back, who's been massively out of favour since the new manager arrived at the club, came on to replace the injured Liam Feeney, with mixed results. Whilst defensively he was pretty solid, and he did get his moment when he outsmarted the onrushing Mackail-Smith; he was pretty dreadful on the ball, with most of his time on it spent kicking it straight to an opponent. He also seemed quite giddy, as he was constantly rushing out of his position to make a challenge, and leaving lots of space in behind him. But considering it's his first appearance in quite a while, he did alright.
Eidur Gudjohnsen - 5
I can't say I recall Eidur touching the ball once, well, he did bring it down once with an exceptional touch.
Dean Moxey - 6
Brought on with a few minutes to spare to shore up the backline as we held on for the 1-0 win, and he did just that. He made a couple of important blocks and clearances on the left hand side, as we ground out the result.