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MOTM: Bolton Wanderers 2-0 Leyton Orient

He lives down the roooooaaaaaddddd

Bolton Wanderers v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

It was an honest moment, if possibly a little too honest, when, on the face of it, the pretty underwhelming signing of journeyman forward Arthur Gnahoua was questioned in the usual manner by the club’s in-house journalist Luke after signing on the eve of our game with Newport County back in late September. His answer to the age old, ‘what made you want to join the club?’ question was not simply just the line now immortalised in a terrace, (well, Twitter) chant.

He gave a few other valid reasons as to why he was happy to join a ‘massive’ club. Full-time employment in a pandemic was probably the main one. But boy are we now glad that he lives just down the road.

After recovering early from a shoulder injury suffered in a three minute appearance at Walsall back in December, fruitful cameos from the bench at Exeter, Cheltenham and Tranmere had earned him his big chance. And rightly so, after the score while he’d been on the pitch in those impressive substitute appearances was cumulatively 3-1 to us, helped hugely by a goal and assist from the 28 year-old.

This performance was all that we have been missing the whole season. He showed more drive, fearlessness and intent than anyone has on the ball all campaign, barring spells in games from the likes of Lloyd Isgrove in the first half versus Cheltenham and Nathan Delfouneso at Scunthorpe for roughly twenty minutes in the second half.

What impressed me more than anything was his poise and ability to spot the man in space when his jinking run down the left would give him that split second where he’d beaten his man and allowed him to pick a pass or dig a cross out. His cut back for Delfouneso in the first half was perfection. That it inexplicably didn’t lead to a goal meant thousands of fans sat in front of their tablets and laptops started wondering whether the game would follow a familiar path, leading to Saturday evening blues once again.

That it didn’t was of course down to a team effort, as well as those of our Arthur. There were very good performances from the likes of the returning Alex Baptiste, a close second to Gnahoua for MOTM, and Ricardo Santos at centre-half, perhaps the partnership we’ve been looking for in there. Harry Brockbank recovered from a shaky start up against former White Conor Wilkinson to provide an attacking outlet and a steady presence down the right flank. Kieran Lee did the small things well in midfield and guided the recalled George Thomason through the game.

Indeed, the opening goal was a great example of teamwork and how getting enough bodies in the box can cause panic and players to make mistakes under pressure. What we’ve been unable to do this season, except at Stevenage away, is score a second goal in quick succession to the opener. This can really take the wind out of the opposition’s sails and was vital to relieving any unwanted nervous pressure we may have felt in the final third of the encounter. Arthur’s quick feet beat Josh Coulson all ends up down the byline and once he’d made his way to the edge of the area, his decision making came up trumps again as he played an unerringly pinpoint ball to the only man in space in Eoin Doyle, who duly tucked a well-taken effort into the corner. Sighs of relief and swigs of beer were no doubt sunk as the ball nestled past Lawrence Vigouroux in the O’s net.

The last twenty minutes should have yielded at least three more strikes to give the result a pleasing sheen, as substitute Zack Elbouzedi, who’d given way to Gnahoua these past two games, spurned two great chances, one of which he should’ve squared to Arthur to have given him what would’ve been a very much well deserved goal. It was a joy to watch some of the interplay from Delfouneso, Gnahoua and Elbouzedi though, as the shackles finally came off. Playing with a wilful abandon in the final third, space opened up time and time again, as Orient committed men forward in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the match. Remember that feeling when you don’t want a game to end? Yeah, me neither. Nice isn’t it!

What a difference having pace in the side makes and pace with a brain isn’t half a dangerous combination. It opens up space and time on the ball for others too. Arthur glides past players and that is kryptonite to defensive structures. We have the forward players with the capabilities to blow teams away and I think the key to unlocking this has been getting someone to commit defenders. We have that man now. In-form, full of confidence and surely undroppable.

What a performance from Gnahoua! And only a short drive home for good ol’ Arthur to boot!