After a short wobble in form, Wanderers look back on track in their promotion push from League One, which was compounded in a 3-1 demolition of Port Vale which could easily have been a wider margin of victory on Saturday. After an embarrassing 2-0 loss at home to Oxford, The Whites went 525 minutes without conceding a goal, and if it weren't for Gary Madine's best efforts to avoid clearing the ball from a corner, it'd be longer.
The reasons behind our defensive improvements are various; doubtless, we are coming up against weaker opponents on a regular basis, we have a first choice goalkeeper who has the ability to stop shots from beyond 20 yards, our centre halves have forged an effective partnership, and the competition for places in our full back positions is paying dividends. Above all, the defensive unit has been well coached, and all are hitting top form. Their impressive performances of late deserve an individual analysis.
Mark Howard - before Ben Amos' loan move to Cardiff, most assumed that Howard would be Bolton's second choice goalkeeper, but his impressive pre-season form had Phil Parkinson handing Howard his debut against former club Sheffield United on the first day of the season. Even after Parky signed Ben Alnwick on deadline day, Howard hasn't looked back, conceding just 11 goals so far this season, the best return in the league. Howard has kept 7 clean sheets in all competitions so far, and was sufficiently furious with Gary Madine for allowing Vale to grab a consolation with just 15 minutes to go at the weekend. Another thing of note is Howard's distribution, which is setting the Wanderers off on quick and effective counter attacks. A cracking signing, especially considering Howard came on a free transfer.
Lawrie Wilson - if you're here for an unbiased and fair assessment of my Lawrie, you're in the wrong place. Wilson has been proving the doubters wrong with a succession of solid performances, which has coincided with his first decent run in the starting eleven. The competition for places with Buxton seems to be getting the best out of Lawrie, who is starting to forge a decent partnership on the right flank with Sammy Ameobi. There is no greater sight on this earth than to see those hazelnut lockets bounce mischievously from his firm shoulders and back again, as he marauds into enemy territory with the ball at his feet and goals on his mind. I almost feel as though the public address system should play Carly Simon's "Nobody Does it Better" when he's in possession. And what about that goal? My word, what a hit. Deflection? I didn't see one.
Mark Beevers - before Zach scores 25 goals and fires us to the title, I'm giving my Player of the Season award to Mark Beevers already. Beevers could be the best signing we've made to our back four since Florent Laville's January mission to rescue our Premier League status. The man is, as the song rightly says, magic. How on earth we managed to sign him without competition from Championship clubs is baffling. Just one look at Millwall's fortunes this term shows the impact he had there. He's strong in the air, covers for his full back when needed, and has that extra yard of pace to deal with balls in behind the back four. He is one half of a fantastic partnership, and one which will be monumental in our efforts to win the title this year.
David Wheater - I'll hold my hands up, I was absolutely wrong regarding Wheater. When he left, I was sorry to see a player that has clearly settled well at Bolton leave, particularly as he was such a key character in the dressing room. However, at the end of last season I saw him as expensive and in the Mark Davies bargain bin of unfulfilled promise. I was absolutely, totally, categorically, 100% wrong. Sometimes, you put two centre halves together, and it just clicks into action. Parky has done just that with Beevers and Wheater. The Redcar Mountain is proving me wrong with every game, and I'm loving it.
Andy Taylor - here's one that has sprung up on us. His season long loan from Wigan was met with grumbles, especially as the Pie Eaters were rubbing their hands with glee at offloading him to Wanderers. Since Moxey's horror show of a performance against Oxford, Taylor has taken the opportunity with both hands. He nullified Bury's Zeli Ismail at Gigg Lane, and put in another impressive performance against Vale on Saturday. Taylor is a free agent at the end of the season; if we had any sense about us, we'd have the contract all but signed already. Besides, why stay at Wigan in League One next season when he can play in the Championship with the Wanderers?