This game is proof that the stats don’t always tell the full story. A quick glance onto BBC Sport’s match report and you’ll see Derby with 74% of overall possession, 17 shots to our 8 and the majority of corners. But what those stats don’t tell you is how much of that possession was within the centre of the pitch and just in-front of the tenacious Jason Lowe and Everton loanee Joe Williams. I came into Saturday’s game, I imagine like most of our fans; having watched Derby beat Manchester Utd mid week, with a sense of dread. After a strong start to the campaign for us quickly turned into 5 games without a win, I was looking at our upcoming fixtures pre-match rueing the missed opportunity at Ipswich and wondering were we were going to pick up points going forward. Turns out I needn’t have worried. Before kick off I would have took your hand off for a draw however as the game progressed, a draw wasn’t something that I thought Derby deserved.
It was always going to be an emotional game for the players and club after the news midweek that Stephen Darby had been diagnosed with Motor Neurones Disease. The players came out wearing his number 23 and shirts with his name
across the back, Darby himself was in the stands with the injured Ben Alnwick. Parkinson named basically the same side that drew last week at Ipswich aside from Remi Matthews in for Alnwick, and with Wheater returning to the starting lineup (as he rightfully should). Derby meanwhile fielded an unchanged team from the squad that beat United midweek and must have felt very confident they could beat us on our own patch. The game started much as it would play out for the whole 90mins; Derby retaining possession, utilizing their wealth of attacking talent and strong midfield to keep the ball and move it quickly in front of our goal, probing for an opening. But they created only half chances as our ‘’screen’’ and back four worked together as one solid unit from the opening stages. The Wanderers faithful didn’t have to wait long for the deadlock to be broken. A rare foray forward resulted in a Bolton corner, which was played to the first man Grounds who under pressure knocked it back to Matthews, as Derby broke out he showed excellent distribution to find an unmarked, onside Buckley on the wing; he whipped an excellent delivery to Craig Noone at the back-post who headed back across goal to give Wanderers the lead. You could see how much this goal meant to the team as they all raced over to celebrate with Darby, with Noone in particular jumping over the hoardings and into the stands to hug his former teammate.
After the goal Wanderers set back into their solid shape and limited Derby very effectively to only long shots and half chances throughout the remainder of the first half and well into the second. Despite long spells in possession it took until the 88th minute before Derby were given a clear sight of goal, a long crossfield ball found Mason Mount striding forward and it took a brilliant save by the feet of Matthews to stop him, especially brilliant because he had very little to do up until that point. Wanderers frustrated Derby and while we didn’t look to keep possession we worked it up to Magennis well who toiled all game and was a constant thorn in the side of Keogh and Tomori, prompting Carson to simulate injury at one point in a bid to get the striker sent off. Credit also has to go to Buckley; I have been a strong critic of him in his time with us so far but he was excellent and has certainly cemented his place on that left side in Parky’s eyes. One wasted chance in the first half aside he worked hard all game, provided the assist for Noone’s goal and tested Carson with a clever shot halfway through the second half. A special mention at this point has to go to the referee, Mr Duncan had a terrible game and it was consistency that he was most lacking, giving bad decisions on both sides and awarding fouls for things only moments earlier he’d let go. I understand that the level of refereeing in the Championship is of a lower standard than the Premier League but more often than not it feels like Sunday league level. However, gripes aside this was the perfect Phil Parkinson performance with every member of the squad giving 100% and the only weak link being that of Joe Williams. The young loanee gave his worst performance in a Bolton shirt so far: not bad by any stretch but whereas he was as fiesty as ever in the tackle and shit-housery he was lacking in his passing, giving the ball away multiple times and at one point failing to play (Million pound man) Doidge through on goal instead opting to blast the ball over the bar.
I like to gauge how well we’ve played by how salty the oppositions fans and manager are post game. Frank was a class act and only spoke of Derby’s misgivings and lack of ability in possession. A few Derby fans that I walked past on my way out of the ground congratulated us on our ‘‘excellent shithousery’’, which proves to me that it’s not just our fans that read LOV. Ultimately, Wanderers can be proud of this win. Another game in which we were written off before kick off but gave the sort of performance against better opposition that we saw at the start of this season. We will need to be at this level time and time again this season if we are going to avoid relegation but I am very confident in this team and Parkinson’s tactics. He knows how to get the best out of limited players and the leagues cast offs as seen by the recent performances of Jack Hobbs and Will Buckley and the improved performance this week of Jonathan Grounds. Cliches aside, anyone can beat anyone in this league and yesterday was an example of that, these are the sort of games that we lost last season and we can take heart going into Tuesdays game away at Stoke.