I never thought I'd be writing this here article on Sunday afternoon, the day after the opening day of the season, as Sky's not-so-Super Sunday unfolds before my eyes, with a massive smile creeping over my face as I look back upon the game. I fully expected, somewhat pessimistically, that Derby County would absolutely batter Bolton Wanderers, but they didn't - if anything we should have won and it would have been very much deserved.
So here's how I feel the players performed in the season curtain raiser, and it's a positive start:
Ben Amos - 7
Amos was very rarely tested throughout the 90 minutes - in fact, if he made a save I can't recall it. But every single thing he did do was clean and composed, which just sent a massive calming influence through the whole stadium. It's very reassuring to know that if the ball, lets say, gets kicked over the backline and their striker gets in behind, that Amos is there on hand to come off his line and put an end to the danger. We've done really well to sign him.
Lawrie Wilson - 7
The Whites' new right back was a little shaky initially, looking a little tentative on the ball, but he soon grew into the game. He wasn't ever put under too much pressure as Lennon's plan to bottle Derby worked wonderfully and they rarely exploited the left hand side, but ever time they tried Wilson was resilient and dealt with it. He's also got a great pair of lungs on him, the lad didn't stop running up and down the touchline all game long, it's just a shame his crossing was a little hit and miss. It really is nice to have a real right back again.
Dorian Dervite - 8
It appears to me that because so many other players are (rightly) picking up the plaudits, Dorian Dervite's performance has gone largely unnoticed. He did not end last season well at all as he went well off the boil and became a liability. Coming into the season I was hoping that we'd see the Frenchman return to form, and he hasn't disappointed so far. He was the experienced head and the leader in the back line yesterday, and whilst he was lucky not to give a way a penalty with a wild slash at Russell, he was otherwise back to his best. Strong and dominant in the air and making plenty of vital blocks and challenges on the ground. Long may it continue.
Prince-Désir Gouano - 8
For a 21-year old to come to a new club, in a new league, in a new country, and have one training session with his new teammates before being thrown in to the heart of defence on the first day of the season, against one of the favourite for the title, and to play that well is absolutely sensational. I had no idea what to expect from Prince going into the game, and his pre-match drills weren't encouraging as he didn't look very good in the air even then, whilst I think there are still doubts over his aerial ability, there aren't any about every other facet of his game and he looks to be a very shrewd piece of business. He was combative and strong against Derby, never allowing himself to get bullied out of a challenge and when it came to a foot race he rarely lost. The way in which he worked so well with his fellow defenders was also very pleasing, him and Moxey were constantly covering for each other and he seemed to have a good understanding with Dervite. All of a sudden we don't look too bad in defence any more.
Dean Moxey - 9
I didn't know he had it in him, I really didn't, but that performance was nothing short of amazing. That's quite easily the best Moxey has ever played for Wanderers, especially at left back, and it's hard to put it into more words than that. He was excellent and the man of the match for me. He was strong, fast, anticipated danger and cut it out, dominant in the air, good in the tackle and a constant option going forward. Much like Dervite, long may it continue.
Jay Spearing - 8
Where has this man been for the past two years? I knew Spearing would start the game, but I never in a million years expected him to be that bloody good, it genuinely was a return of the Jay Spearing which every Bolton fan fell in love with when he first joined the club on loan. Being unburdened from the armband appears to have done him wonders, playing at the base of a midfield diamond it was up to him to shield the defence and nullify the threat from Derby's attacking might. He did such a good job on the £5m fairy that is Tom Ince (who couldn't beat the first man on a corner), that the petulant child just resorted to crying and throwing a tantrum every time something didn't go his way. He was nearly as bad as the astonishingly quiet 3000 Derby fans who made the trip. Nearly.
It really was a return of the Spearing of old, he acted like a leader in midfield, making fantastic sliding challenges, battling for every single ball, using simple but accurate and meaningful passes that kept the flow of the game moving. If he can play that way every week, then he has to start every week. There's just the small matter of his red card. I knew it wasn't a penalty at the time, but I'm still torn whether or not he did intentionally dive. The replay I've seen isn't at a great angle so it's hard to tell, but going off Spearing's and everybody else's reactions, I do feel like he just lost his footing, but only Spearing will know for sure.
Neil Danns - 6
It was a strange game for Danns. He did work hard, linked up well with others at times and his lofted balls into the box were a really nuisance for the Rams defence to deal with. On the other hand, however, he's still not eradicated that stupid 'dawdling on the ball and then losing it in the middle of the park' trick from his game yet - which could have cost us twice if Derby's attack, that cost more than our entire squad, wasn't atrocious.
Darren Pratley - 7
Not much fell Pratley's way in terms of being on the ball, as he didn't do an awful lot with it at his feet, but off the ball is where we saw the most of Pratley's game on Saturday. He was constantly harrying and pressing the Derby midfield and winning the ball back. Also, if there were any doubts, I think he proved that he is the right choice for the armband just with the sheer effort he put in. Lennon was right to remove him at the end because he was dead on his feet.
Zach Clough - 5
It was a quiet game from Clough, but I guess in hindsight that was to be expected. Although we did our best to destroy Derby's midfield (that pesky groundsman), he still came up against one of the best in the league as George Thorne did an excellent job at completely nullifying him out of the game. Clough rarely got on the ball, but when he did Thorne was immediately upon him and able to brush him off the ball. We have to remember that it was only Clough's second game back after injury, and he still looks a little off the pace. But still, he's going to have to adapt quickly to being a man-marked man, but I have no doubt he will.
Liam Feeney - Feeney out of Ten
I need to clarify this, as it is by no means meant as a dig. I don't mind Feeney as much as everyone else in the world, I appreciate the job he does for the team but still recognise his failings. So from here on out, if I ever give Feeney the rating "Feeney out of Ten" you'll know that it means he worked really hard, ran himself into the ground in fact, he even did a couple of good crosses too and his link up play was alright, but most of his crosses were overhit, the ball constantly got stuck under his feet in key positions and he often made the wrong decision with where he passed. That happened against Derby.
Gary Madine - 8
The Whites won 32 aerial duels on Saturday, more than any other Championship side that weekend, a big reason for that was debutant Gary Madine. Hopes were high for Madine after an impressive pre-season, and he didn't let them down with a fine, battling performance against two of the best centre backs in the league. He won absolutely everything in the air and was a constant presence. Whilst his link up play with those around him wasn't quite as good as we've seen in pre-season, he was desperately unlucky not to score twice with two superb stretching headers that cannoned off the cross-bar. Whisper it, we may have found a new talisman in Gary Madine.
Emile Heskey - 8
To think, some people were saying that it was a mistake to give Emile Heskey a new one year contract. How wrong were they? Once Heskey was introduced with just over 15 minutes to go his mere presence made an instant impact and he changed the game in our favour, giving us momentum and a focal point. He had the Derby defenders worried and he played fantastically, coming so close to scoring with a great header that hit the post. Oh, and he did A DOUBLE NUTMEG. If we use Heskey sparingly so he never gets too knackered, then we've got a real option to use off the bench this season.
Liam Trotter - 3
Not that I'm being overly harsh, but if we had have lost that game in the last minute because of Trotter fucking falling over his own clumsy feet then I'd have jumped off the upper tier, ran on the pitch and choke slammed him into oblivion.
Scott Carson - 7
Chris Baird - 7
Richard Keogh - 7
Jason Shackell - 8
Stephen Warnock - 5
George Thorne - 8
Will Hughes - N/A
Craig Bryson - N/A
Johnny Russell - 6
Chris Martin - 4
Tom Ince - 2
Jeff Hendrick - 6
Ryan Shotton - 7
Andi Weimann - 5