This is weird. Saturday's draw with Southend United is incredibly frustrating because Bolton Wanderers really should have won. They dominated from the 3rd minute until the 93rd but, aside from one goalkeeping blunder, just couldn't find a way past a resolute defence, despite having 23 shots. The weird bit is, even though it's frustrating, I'm not annoyed in the slightest, in fact, this is the most fun I've had writing a player ratings in, like, ever.
Bolton's performance, on a quality of football basis, was the best I've seen in years. We were patient on the ball, and when an opportunity opened the players were quick and incisive in moving forward. They played some really nice stuff, the new signings look fantastic, and we were utterly dominant. An other day we win that game 5-1. And to think, this was only their first game altogether. Imagine after a couple of weeks training when the team have gelled together, imagine when the likes of Zach Clough and Max Clayton are back fit and raring to go. We are going to be fantastic. We're going to smash this league (touch wood).
Here's how I thought the players did in the most impressive 1-1 draw I've ever witnessed:
Mark Howard - 7
For pretty much the entire game Howard had absolutely nothing to do, though he showed great concentration and reactions in order to charge down a Southend attacker after a sloppy Wheater back pass. Distribution still needs work but one brilliant long ball to Anderson shows that there is some quality there.
Lewis Buxton - 6.5
Much like his opposite fullback, Buxton started the game slow and his awful positioning cost us the opening goal. There were a plethora of errors in the build up to the opener, but Buxton tucking in so much into the centre back position and leaving the goalscorer completely free at the back post was one of the most costly. After that though, especially in the second half, he grew into the game. He didn't have much to do defensively due to the nature of Southend's game but he got forward a lot and linked up well with Josh Vela, whipping in some really good cross into the box that on another day will be put into the net.
David Wheater - 7
Saturday was probably Wheater's worst game of the season, which is saying a whole lot because he only made one real mistake and only looked a little off the pace compared to the rest of his games this season. Midway through the second half he was sloppy and played a weak back pass to Howard, who had to be alert and quick to clear the danger. It was one moment of complacency in an otherwise fine afternoon, but it really could have cost us. Otherwise he had practically nothing to do and wasn't in the wrong for the goal. I actually enjoyed it when he got forward as he was actually fairly decent on the ball and picking out passes.
Mark Beevers - 8
Beavers continues to be an absolute god and there really isn't all that much else I need to say.
Dean Moxey - 5.5
The blond haired left back continues to be the worst player in the team by a fair margin. It was his terrible positioning and then lacklustre pressing which allowed the first goal to occur and he probably should have conceded a penalty in the second half for a lazy push. He gets forward really well, running up and down the left flank all day to provide the only real bit of width in the side, but it doesn't count for much if he's a liability at the back.
Jay Spearing - 9
Many may be giving young Keshi the MOTM reward, and you'll hear no arguments against it from me, but personally I just can't look past the phenomenal performance from Jay Spearing against Southend. We've been saying for a while now that it looks like we've got the player we first got on loan from Liverpool, but I don't think that's true. He looks better than the player we first got from Liverpool. The intensity, the tackling, the great defensive work has all returned, but he's a much more complete player at the moment. It may well just be because he's playing at League One, but regardless he was fantastic on Saturday. The way he constantly won the ball back and halted Southend's attempts at counter attacks in their tracks allowed us to pin them deep into their own half, making us look the most dominant and dangerous I've seen us play in years. A couple of heavy passes and a few poor set pieces were his only mishaps.
Josh Vela - 8
As with Spearing, it may be that Vela is now excelling because we're playing at an easier level, but for the first time since he broke into the first team Josh Vela looks like he truly belongs in a starting XI. He started the game a little slow (like everyone else) as he was tucked in narrow and didn't look comfortable in a congested midfield, but as soon as he was pushed further out wide he dominated the flank. Him and Buxton linked really well and were a constant menace down the right, throwing cross after cross into the area. It's great to see him living up to the potential at last.
Liam Trotter - 6.5
I don't think Trotter had a bad game, and his improvement on last season remains palpable, but he didn't really seem to have too much of an impact on affairs and I'm surprised it wasn't him that was taken off for a more attacking threat. He got about the pitch well, winning back the ball on a number of occasions, but his touch was often heavy, meaning he had to stretch into a tackle to win it back. The monsoon like conditions certainly didn't help matters, but I think Trotter, despite performing at an alright level, may find himself with completion for his once players return from injury.
James Henry - 7.5
I don't think Henry had the most impactful of debuts, hardly surprising after only being at the club two days and it being his first game of the season, but he still looked a cut above most of the players on the pitch. Whenever he got the ball at his feet, which unfortunately wasn't near enough, he was constantly positive and looking for opportunities to shoot or pass. His movement on and off the ball is also the best we've had in a White shirt for a while and I'm still shocked he's had to drop down to League One for game time. I'm not sure if the tip of the diamond suits him all that well, as he strikes me as a player who prefers to run direct into space and be explosive rather than cute and technical in tight spaces, but I'm sure he can do a job there. The middle of the park was very congested on Saturday, and as the team haven't had long with each other they're not sure how best to play yet, but once they do we, and Henry, will be brilliant.
Keshi Anderson - 8
I like Keshi, a lot. The lad has tenacity, which his goal more than proves. He may only be small, but he isn't afraid to challenge for headers, latch onto long balls from the goalkeeper and such. He's wiry and a nuisance, loves getting in front of defenders and sticking his arse into them to keep the ball. He might be slight in stature, but he looks more than capable to rough it against the big, mean brute defenders of League One. There were concerns about Bolton sacrificing Kaiyne Woolery forever just to have Anderson for a season, me included, but he already looks like a much more complete package than Woolery does and will help fire us back to the Championship. Quick, instinctive and smart on the ball, opportunistic and exciting to watch, Bolton fans are going to have a lot of fun watching Keshi this season.
Gary Madine - 7.5
I criticised Madine a couple of weeks back for not looking that bothered compared to strike partner Jamie Proctor, and I felt that against Southend he really did look like he cared. He was putting a shift in, but actually doing meaningful pressing, actually winning the ball back and starting off attacks, rather than just half heartedly closing down a goalkeeper. This high effort made him look great in his link up play too, one particular move in the first half all stemmed from Madine getting in front of an opposition player and winning the ball with his chest. He was doing flick ons that actually went to team mates and just generally looked very good. It's just a real shame that he wasn't at his best in front of goal, where he could have probably bagged a couple. Just hope his injury isn't severe.
Jamie Proctor - 7
As Tom Molloy pointed out in his five things piece, even though Madine and Proctor are both big target men, they are both very different players. Madine usually doesn't like staying on the ball for too much time, where as Proctor loves it at his feet. Upon his introduction Proctor constantly peeled out on to the left, would pick up long ball and attempt to drive in field with it. His best work was when he linked up with those around him, his worst when he attempted to beat players with rather slow step overs. I do like him a lot, but he needs to be more decisive on the ball and instinctive in the box. We did look slightly less dangerous once Madine left the field for Proctor, and that was typified when Beevers managed to nod the ball over the marooned goalkeeper and it landed in the middle of the box. With an open goal gaping no body was on hand to smash it home, Proctor should have been.
Sammy Ameobi - 8
Big Sammy may be the most gangly footballer I've ever seen, I'm pretty sure his legs are taller than me, but that height and his natural ability gives us plenty of options. At the start of any passage of play Ameobi would be central, so he could use his 6ft4" frame to flick on long balls, but then he'd drift out wide, and when ever he picked up the ball out there he was a box of unpredictable tricks and turns that looked amazing, and were effective. He may not have succeeded in the Championship, but at this level he could he a real game changer. I just hope his asthma doesn't limit him to appearances off the bench.
Andrew Taylor - 7
Taylor came on for the goosed Moxey and looked alright, he even came closest to grabbing the winner when he managed to squirm his way into the box, but he just couldn't keep his effort under the bar. Hard to say if he's better than Moxey defensively at this time, but he's yet to put a foot wrong.