Being the late kick off meant that Bolton Wanderers’ watched others below us make up some ground. By the time we kicked off our cushion above the relegation zone had been halved by Birmingham City’s earlier win meaning we needed a big performance to go into the international break with the 6 point gap restored, and this is exactly what we got against Aston Villa.
1) The search for a target man
The one thing which frustrated me during the match was the use of first Darren Pratley and then Sammy Ameobi as a target man. Neither of these players are really target men. Pratley did a noble job while on the pitch, but it is not something which is within Ameobi’s skill set. On a snowy pitch it was understandable to do route one at all cost, but I hope at least target man Ameobi is kept to a minimum.
2) Work ethic
Bolton players were simply everywhere all evening. Adam Le Fondre and Josh Vela in particular stood out putting an incredibly shift in closing players down. Le Fondre’s work ethic was at the very core of his man of the match performance and he gave John Terry a torrid evening. The effort put in all over the pitch was a huge reason why Villa were kept to very few clear cut opportunities all evening. More of the same will put us in a great position to pick up the rest of the points needed to survive this season.
3) The case for defence
Villa, Bristol City and Cardiff City to name a few have turned up at the Macron looking for easy points only to be faced with shut outs. As we continue to not score that many goals the defence is unbelievably important and they once again put a great shift in. Some didn’t perform amazingly for 90 minutes, but who cares? Yes Mark Beevers was shaky at the start and yes Jon Flanagan looked off the pace at times. But when it came down to it they were, and Flanagan in particular with an exceptional block, in the right place to shut Villa out.
And when the defence could not deal with the threat Ben Alnwick was on hand to make important saves again, with one of the highlights of the game being his superb save in the closing moments.
4) The impossible becomes probable
People keep on quoting stats about our start followed by subsequent dramatic upturn. After 11 games we hadn’t even been ahead in a league game and now we sit 6 points clear of the drop with 8 to play. Sunderland are now 11 points behind us and look doomed along with Burton Albion who are slightly more in touch.
I continue to believe that 45 points will be enough this season meaning we only need 2 more wins. With Birmingham, Burton Albion and Barnsley coming up we would only have ourselves to blame if we do not hit that mark. If we can win one and draw the other two of those and pick something up against the likes of Leeds United and Millwall we should be fine.
We cannot get cocky just yet, Birmingham have set themselves up for a run and you never know who else may suddenly come to life when the going gets tough. But we are in a great position to push on after the international break.
5) Le Fondre’s on fire your defence is terrified
Le Fondre has grabbed his chance with both hands following the departure of Gary Madine. His goals have already gained us 4 points since then and if he continues to play like he did against Villa I would be amazed if he lost his place. Now he is playing regularly hopefully he can continue to cash in on his second chance in the team, and see good on his promise to continue to score important goals for the Wanderers.