Bolton produced one of their best performances of the season to beat Barnsley 3-1 and show that they are still fighting despite last week’s 5-1 loss to Wolves. Gary Madine bagged himself a brace, one of which was from the penalty spot, with undisputed Man of the Match Mark Little getting the third.
The team had two changes from the Molineux Mauling with the suspended David Wheater being replaced by Reece Burke and Adam Armstrong losing his place to the goal scorer against Wolves, Will Buckley. Armstrong’s place has been under threat for some time but to be dropped against his former club must have been a knock to his already seemingly fragile confidence, perhaps Parky could have managed this situation better.
The game began with little action taking place and the Barnsley fans in decent voice as their team had a couple of dangerous crossing opportunities, but thankfully nothing came of them. The first shot of the game came from Josh Vela as he saw a long-range effort deflected into the hands of goalkeeper Adam Davies. Vela was involved in the first of many penalty incidents on the day as he was taken out by a Barnsley centre-half when about to shoot. It was something that seemed blatantly obvious to everyone in the ground and the Bolton faithful’s frustration was compounded when a similar foul was given for the Tykes moments later. Marc Iles had already warned pre-match that ref, Oliver Langford, had been poor this season and today would be another off-day for the man in black.
The first major chance of the game fell Madine’s way as a cross from Vela found him at the back post but he couldn’t direct his header on target. The big man will have been disappointed with his effort and this feeling was compounded as he had another chance in a similar position but chipped into Davies’ hands for an easy catch. Almost immediately Barnsley were up the other end and were it not for a great blocking challenge by Darren Pratley, Tom Bradshaw would certainly have scored. Thankfully for Madine, he wouldn’t have long to wait to make up for his earlier wastefulness. Mark Little stormed down the right-wing, easily outmuscling and out-pacing the covering Harvey Barnes to square to the striker who chested the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.
Unfortunately, the Bolton fans had very little time to celebrate the opener as “I Feel Good” had barely finished playing before Barnsley had a route back into the game. Immediately from kick-off Brad Potts went on a marauding surge that end with him finding Bradshaw in the box. The Barnsley top scorer touched the ball away from his body just as Burke clattered into him, giving Langford an easy decision to award a penalty. The former Walsall striker dusted himself down and slammed the ball down the middle of the goal, giving Ben Alnwick in the Wanderers goal no chance. In a similar fashion, immediately after the goal, the thus far impressive Buckley went down after getting the wrong side of Jason McCarthy but yet again Langford was unmoved.
The referee was again questioned by Wanderers as Pratley was brought down at a corner but, as we had come to expect, Langford was intent on giving Wanderers the square root of nothing by way of decisions. He did however dish out two yellow cards in quick succession - one to Adam Hammill who had professionally fouled Buckley at least three times and to Sammy Ameobi for a “clash” with Joseph Williams. It seemed as though Williams had fouled the big man and then threw himself to the floor to make it looked like Sammy had reacted. It was a perfect con and not the only time he would be involved in controversy in this game.
Following this incident, Sammy whipped in a cross that found its way to Pratley and after his shot was blocked, Buckley again was sent sprawling under a challenge by former Bolton transfer target, Liam Lindsay. The ref blew his whistle but appeared not to point to the spot. With the Wanderers crowd thinking he would add insult to injury by booking Buckley for diving, he did eventually award a penalty. The relief and joy then turned to worry as Madine was the man who shouldered the responsibility. It was a similar situation to that which transpired in the film GOAL! with Madine being Gavin Harris in this instance. Needless to say, I didn’t watch the spot-kick (neither did Phil Parkinson it must be said) but we should never have doubted Big Gaz as he rolled it down the middle. It wasn’t a great penalty, sure, but they all count.
Langford was still against Wanderers, however, and missed Pratley almost having his shirt torn in two at a corner, taking the tally of certain penalties Wanderers should have had in this half to four. Thankfully, the boys saw it through to half-time despite Bradshaw missing a decent chance with his head just before the interval.
The striker was certainly Barnsley’s most dangerous asset and began the second-half causing more trouble for Wanderers, seeing a shot blocked by Burke, who had recovered well from his earlier error. The other major threat for the Tykes was former Colchester midfielder, George Moncur, who easily had the beating of both Karl Henry and Darren Pratley for pace and used this advantage to work space for a shot to test Alnwick. It certainly wouldn’t be the last time the ex-Peterborough stopper would be called into action and Mark Beevers certainly wasn’t helping him. Beevs completely missed the ball when given to him by Moncur and Bradshaw was away. Alnwick parried his weak effort , but it was headed back into danger by Moncur and somehow Brad Potts couldn’t get it over the line before Burke cleared. Potts was then booked, showing his frustration, as he shoved Karl Henry who was also booked for some reason. Langford it seemed simply couldn’t miss an opportunity to do something to irritate the Bolton faithful.
However, in my view, the referee then showed Wanderers some leniency as his reading of an altercation involving Vela and Barnsley’s pantomime villain of the day, Williams, was that both merited yellow cards. I saw Vela be wound up by a guy who had wanted to do just that all day and throw what looked like a mini-punch. In that instance , I was more than thankful for Langford’s ineptitude. In the aftermath of the incident McCarthy went away down the right and forced Alnwick into another save, prompting Parky to remove the tiring Buckley for Amrstrong, perhaps worrying about the former Brighton man’s lack of pace when dealing with attacks. Barnsley themselves made a change with Hammill coming off for striker Mamadou Thiam but the change didn’t have the desired effect.
A minute after the substitution, Little again went charging down the right and was faced with the challenge of taking on Andy Yiadom, something Sammy Ameobi had avoided all game. The former Bristol City right-back beat the opposite full-back easily and slammed the ball into the corner of the net. It was a goal to be hugely proud of, especially given Yiadom’s faultless performance up to that point, and has got fans making comparisons to Cafu. I think this is unfair, the Brazilian isn’t fit to lace Little’s boots.
It was almost four for Bolton moments later as Armstrong surged towards goal and tried to find Madine. Though the big man’s touch let him down the ball deflected into the substitutes path and his curling shot nicked off the outside of the post. Unfortunately for those of us watching, this would be Bolton’s last meaningful foray forward as they reverted into defensive mode. Yiadom had a deflected shot saved by Alnwick who also had to save from Potts minutes later. Barnes, who has won many plaudits this season, was taken off for Ryan Hedges (the fact he had minimal effect on the game also added to Littles credentials for Man of the Match) and the sub played in Thiam who had a shot deflected wide.
Parky decided to waste some time by taken off the quiet Ameobi for Craig Noone but this didn’t stem the tide of Barnsley chances as Thiam had two good ones in a minute. The Senegalese striker was left alone by Beevers and played in by Moncur but after checking back onto his left foot he shot straight at Alnwick before collecting the ball and crossing to nobody when he could have shot. Bradshaw also had another free header he placed over the bar. Paul Heckingbottom said after the game that Barnsley should have won the game 3-5 given their chances and they certainly were wasteful, though Bolton had defended well for the most part with Antonee Robinson impressing in particular.
Madine was replaced by Wilbraham as the game drew to a close. Williams, after committing an obvious professional foul on Vela and somehow not seeing a second yellow card was also withdrawn for Cameron McGeehan. The 4th official then showed that there were to be 7 minutes of added time and this gave Barnsley a lift as Alnwick was forced into a stunning save to deny Bradshaw following a scramble in the box. Moncur, thankfully, dragged his follow up shot wide and Wanderers held on to see the game through.
It was a more than welcome return to form for Wanderers and the performances of Robinson, Vela and of course Little give us some real hope that this season will end in survival. It must also be said that Gary Madine, having scored six so far this season, is on course to easily better his tally from last season and this could be crucial for us. We still have to beat Burton when they visit the Macron later this month, but it would certainly be welcome to end our Championship away win drought next week at Forest. Things are looking up again. COYWM