Bolton rounded off their games at the Macron Stadium in 2017 on Saturday with a brilliant 2-0 win over high flyers Cardiff City.
The gaffer made just two changes to the side that were beaten by Burton last weekend, full-backs Mark Little and Andrew Taylor replaced Stephen Darby and Antonee Robinson respectively.
The only other notable change in the squad was youngster Jake Turner took his place on the bench as Mark Howard was left out whilst fans favourite Adam Le Fondre remained out of favour.
Cardiff started the brighter, and inevitably controlled the game in terms of possession to begin with. Both sides had good chances to break the deadlock but couldn't quite find the net.
Cardiff thought they'd gone one up when a good move going forward saw a driven low cross was cleverly flicked on, wrong footing ‘keeper Ben Alnwick who was rooted to the spot, allowing an unmarked Junior Hoilett to tap in from close range, but he was thankfully deemed to be in an offside position.
Following this wake-up call, Wanderers went on the offensive but proved to no avail despite some long range efforts from Sammy Ameobi and Gary Madine. Other than these initial attempts, the sides were level at half time, met by a mixed reaction from the home fans, having not really shown any more promise than they had done the previous week.
Despite a pretty uneventful first half, Bolton turned it on and upped the ante after the break. The attacking charge began with a long range pile-driver from David Wheater, forcing Cardiff’s Sol Bamba into an improvised, yet extremely impressive defensive block with his face which sent both him and the ball flying, just unfortunately not in to the back of the net.
Sammy Ameobi was a man in control in the second period, holding off and beating the numerous defenders who surrounded him on several occasions. Gary Madine held the ball up excellently and chased down every through ball to the death and proved to be an intimidating nuisance to a Cardiff defence who weren't exactly a small back four either.
Half way through the second forty five and a push on Mark Little in the area got the home fans off their seats with major penalty appeals, but wasn't replicated by the players or granted a legitimate offence by the referee.
From this point onwards, things began to get heated as the game was extremely end to end and saw some crucial crunching tackles in the middle of the park from both sides to prevent the moves from developing.
Karl Henry and Darren Pratley both ended up in the book, but couldn't be compared to what seemed to be some unbelievably cynical challenges from Cardiff which weren’t penalised on occasions where there was potential for resulting career-ending injuries.
Despite the referees initial lenience with his use of cards, fouls were given on the regular which eventually became repeated offences for a number of players who all rightly ended up on yellow cards.
One incident in particular saw Neil Warnock take evasive action as his substitute Lee Tomlin was dragged off, just sixteen minutes after being introduced. This was later explained by Warnock as an inevitable sending off had he been left on due to the apparent persistent goading from our two central midfielders.
It wasn't long after this that the referee then had to make a big call which went the hosts way as an overhit Josh Vela corner was headed back across goal by David Wheater and subsequently blocked by a flailing hand and given as a penalty.
Gary Madine stepped up and made no mistake, firing Bolton into the lead, raising the Christmas spirit of the home faithful.
Familiar face Liam Feeney was brought on by the visitors, who received a mixed reaction from the home crowd, whilst former Blue Bird Craig Noone was warmly welcomed on to the pitch by both sets of fans.
The away fans’ reminiscent chants for Noone were acknowledged by the player briefly, which is always nice to see.
With Cardiff struggling to make any process in their search for an equaliser, Bolton took full advantage on the break. Substitute Craig Noone did brilliantly down the right to pick out Gary Madine who unselfishly squared to Josh Vela in a 2 on 1 situation who converted calmly, doubling the lead.
Despite this not being our best team performance, one man who stood out from the rest was Gary Madine whose substitution late on was met by a standing ovation from the home crowd, having played a crucial part in both goals and as such an imposing and influential presence throughout the game.
Madine’s opposite number and big money signing Kenneth Zohore was brought on to try and turn the scoreline around for City, but with no effect. He was kept quiet for the final minutes by Wheavers, as they had all game with the visitors’ other attacking options which also deserves to be credited.
Despite some individal impressive performances and the good result, Wanderers remain in the drop zone over the Christmas period, but will hope that they can make progress and drag themselves out of the relegation dogfight early starting with a trip to The Riverside on Boxing Day.
Parky’s men will face a tough test, but will hope that they can at least take a point from Boro who have just sacked manager Garry Monk. It should be an interesting one so that’s one to definitely look forward to.
Until then folks, from all of us at LOV, we wish you all a very Happy Christmas!