Bolton Wanderers racked up a fourth straight victory and clean sheet in all competitions and a third win in a row in the league with a 2-0 win at Millwall last night.
Wanderers manager Phil Parkinson stuck with the same side that had defeated Oldham by the same scoreline at the weekend, with Zach Clough and Sammy Ameobi patrolling the wings and Josh Vela in the hole behind lone striker Gary Madine. Wanderers had three former Millwall players in their ranks, of which only two actually played - but boy, didn't we know about it.
Wanderers came out of the blocks flying, seemingly buoyed with confidence by Saturday's dominant victory and took full advantage with an early goal. And what a goal.
Millwall failed to clear a corner and the ball was collected by Clough, who spread the ball to Jay Spearing to play the ball inside for Sammy Ameobi. From all of 30 yards out Ameobi took a touch and bent the ball superbly into the top left corner, giving the goalkeeper absolutely no chance. It was a spectacular, unstoppable strike which looks even better on video, below.
Wanderers continued to dominate in the early stages without really creating a great deal, but the hosts soon began to grow into the game. Zach Clough picked up a ridiculous booking for pulling a player to the ground on the edge of his own box then 'throwing' the ball all of five yards. The resulting free-kick was headed goalwards by Morison, but well saved by Mark Howard. Minutes later Vela attempted to break down the right only to be dragged to the floor - even more blatantly than Clough's earlier challenge - and was the yellow card handed out? Of course it wasn't. In fact, Clough was somehow the only player to receive a yellow card despite a series of fouls on him, particularly in the second half.
This was the first time I'd seen Tom Thorpe play and he'd been impressive alongside Spearing in midfield, but was forced off with a possible ankle injury after just half an hour - he'd apparently had to take medication to get through Saturday's game and it was a surprise that he started last night. This saw the welcome introduction of everyone's second favourite afroed Spaniard, Derik Osede, who slotted into midfield alongside Spearing.
Wanderers continued to push in search of a second, and would have found it had the referee not bizarrely stopped play for an injury with Madine clean through on goal - which he duly smacked into the net from 30 yards after the referee's whistle.
As the first half progressed a rather strange series of events took place as a small pocket of Millwall fans nearest to the away end decided to vent their frustration at the unsuspecting Andrew Taylor. The former Middlesbrough man has absolutely no connection to Millwall - according to a few minutes online research - yet he was subjected to a swathe of abuse from this small section of supporters for absolutely no reason. I've come to the conclusion that this minority of fans assumed that this was actually Chris Taylor, the former Millwall and now Bolton winger, hence their derision. I'll leave that up to you to decipher the implications of what that says about Chris Taylor.
Wanderers could have gone two up as Clough played a lovely one-two with Madine but curled his shot too close to the Millwall goalie. And Bolton were again unlucky not to double the lead just before half-time as nice play between Madine and Clough sent the latter clean through on goal. But the one thing lacking in Clough's game, raw pace, alluded him and he was beaten to the ball before he could get a shot off. That would have killed the game but, as it stood, Wanderers went in to the break with a precarious 1-0 lead.
The second half began in the same vein as the first, with Bolton dominating but failing to create any great chances of note. Clough was looking increasingly lively down the left but was foiled several times as he threatened to get into the box, then fired a free-kick wildly over the bar from 30 yards.
The hosts gradually began to grow into the game and enjoyed a 15 to 20 minute spell of possession that had Bolton fans biting their fingernails. But the Bolton defence stood firm and restricted Millwall to a 35-yarder from Shaun Williams that flew miles over the bar. The only other moments of attacking threat were two attempted overhead kicks by Ben Thompson, one of which saw Derik get kicked directly in the face - which apparently wasn't enough for the referee to stop the game.
Mark Beevers and David Wheater were standout performers throughout, with Beevers in particular winning everything that his former employers threw at him. Beevers silenced the home fans' boos and encouraged shouts of "Beevers, Beevers" every time he touched the ball - no matter how minor an involvement - before the amusing chant of "We only came for the Beevers" as the visiting fans increasingly mocked their home counterparts.
James Henry was introduced on the hour mark for goalscorer Ameobi, who struggled to get into the game aside from his wonder goal, to a chorus of boos from the home supporters - another ex-Millwall man. Phil Parkinson was clearly trying to stem Millwall's resurgence but Henry was pretty anonymous as Wanderers struggled to keep possession.
Millwall seized the initiative and began to push for an equaliser again, but found the impressive Spearing standing firmly in their way. The midfielder made two superb last minute tackles in his own box that both prevented goalscoring opportunities and would have resulted in penalties had he slightly mistimed them, then cleared a goal bound attempt off the line.
Wanderers' dogged resistance seemed to wear Millwall down and it seemed increasingly likely that the game would end 1-0. But on 86 minutes Bolton's first corner of the second half was met by Beevers who nodded the ball down to a teammate loitering just outside the box. Said teammate swept the ball into the bottom corner of the net with an expertly timed and placed low volley.
Much to the travelling support's surprise the scorer was not one of our attacking or more technically gifted players, but none other than big David Wheater. Wheats rushed to the travelling fans and revealed a white t-shirt stating 'Get Well Soon Klas' in ode to former Bolton striker Ivan Klasnic, and celebrated with the jubilant Wanderers fans. It was a fitting strike that was more than reminiscent of the kind of finish we became custom to seeing from Klasnic himself.
That goal killed the game off and Bolton could easily have added a third late on, but a convincing 2-0 win was more than enough for the visiting fans to give the players a standing ovation at the final whistle.