What a game that was.
Bolton Wanderers started poorly. Very poorly. With a somewhat-changed starting XI - which perhaps was inevitable given the previous weeks’ collapse at home to Sheffield United, it was maybe to be expected.
Phil Parkinson chose to begin the game with Everton loanee Joe Williams in place of Josh Vela, Andy Taylor and Gary O’Neil in place of Jonathan Grounds and Luke Murphy and Yanic Wildschut for Will Buckley.
It was Wildschut who was to blame for the opener. His wayward pass was intercepted by Manchester City loan man Brandon Barker who fed in Robinson to neatly slot beyond the helpless Ben Alnwick.
Soon after it was two. Alan Browne scored an absolute beaut - volleying in to the top corner from the edge of the box. A more picky man would’ve looked for his Wanderers defenders to get a bit closer to their man, but it was a snapshot out of nowhere and so I think on this occasion we should mark it down to a moment of individual brilliance.
Wanderers were under the cosh and it was only the sloppy finishing of Paul Gallagher and Barker again that stopped us being even further adrift with half-time on the horizon.
This isn’t Bolton Wanderers 2011-18, oh no, this is Bolton Wanderers 2018 edition.
We fought back.
Sammy Ameobi had tested their keeper, Rudd, on occasion and found him to be particularly skittish. It was further proven on 38’ when Sammy struck a howitzer in the general direction of Rudd’s goal. The hapless keeper was powerless to resist the thunderbastard of a shot and it was beyond him before he knew what had hit him. Great goal.
Two minutes later, 2018/19 Player of the Year, Pawel Olkowski, opened his Wanderers account with a goal no less spectacular than that of Ameobi. A very nice passing move led to the Polish maestro lashing home a superb effort from 18 yards out sending the 4,000 strong travelling fans wild. It was another stonker of a goal.
With that, half time came and Wanderers were on top. A slow start replaced by a 100mph onslaught. Great stuff.
The second half was, perhaps inevitably, something of a letdown following the excitement of the first. Wanderers had a couple of chances, so did Preston, but neither side was capable of capitalising.
Gary O’Neil belied his 400 year old body and threw himself around with reckless abandon. Debutant Williams was a nuisance, mixing energetic running and crisp passing with the odd Premier League-inspired dive to get under the skin of our opponents. It was an all-round excellent team performance.
Preston played their part and but for some sloppy finishing of their own could’ve been out of sight after half an hour, but it’s testament to the heart and desire of this new Wanderers side that we didn’t fold and we didn’t let our heads drop. We came back with fight and no little skill and it could’ve been different had we taken some of the second-half chances that fell our way.
One slight negative was the 22-man brawl at full time, sparked by yet more unpleasantness involving Williams who finally managed to get one of their lads to snap. Former Manchester United hipster Ben Pearson laid the nut on our Evertonian friend - upset perhaps by one niggle too many - and was shown a red card after the final whistle.
There was much to be happy with from Wanderers at full time. Onwards and upwards.