Chris Manning has a look back at the game against Everton and wonders if anyone could be gleaned from it.......
Despite the defeat, this was the best that I've seen Bolton Wanderers play this season. Other than a shaky first twenty minutes (par for the course, some would say), we played well. Very well in fact. I don't know whether it was a result of playing certain players who are challenging the established starters for their spot, or whether the higher quality of opponent caused our boys to raise their game but it was much, much more like it.
From Andy Lonergan at the back - who barely had a save to make other than an excellent tip-round-the-post from Steven Pienaar through to Darren Pratley and Marvin Sordell I thought the Wanderers were up for the challenge and ran a top-class Everton side right the way up until the final kick of the game.
The crowd were up for it too - the noise generated at times by a sizeable Everton away following (though strangely one that left several swathes of empty seats) was matched by the home crowd who after the initial period of thinking ‘here we go again' when Everton admittedly dominated the opening 20 minutes soon found their voices. The atmosphere generated by the 14,000 or so Bolton supporters who had braved the snow and the cold was among the best that we have had since relegation from the Premiership and I think it spurred the team on to perform as well as they did.
The killer blow of Heitinga's winner was a bitter pill to swallow, but on leaving the Reebok Stadium the overriding mood was one of confidence and happiness in the performance and with an eye on the upcoming Championship games it is certainly hoped that we can replicate this form in the league. Playing like this I believe that we can climb the table at long last.
It is now crucial that we carry this momentum into the next few games, with Watford and Vydra on the horizon being in excellent form themselves.
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2) Stay Marcos, Stay!
Throughout his time with the club, Marcos Alonso has been something of an enigma. Flashes of Real Madrid quality have been coupled with displays that wouldn't seem out of place at Premier Fives on a Wednesday night. However, the performance given at the weekend against Everton was nothing short of sensational - in my opinion it was the best performance of his Bolton Wanderers career thus far.
Alonso was strong in the tackle, good in the air and accurate with his distribution. It's just a shame that it came on the back of the news that he has agreed to move to Fiorentina in the summer, utilising the Bosman rule to leave for free at the expiration of his contract.
Marcos Alonso joined Bolton Wanderers from Real Madrid for a fee of approximately £2.2m, making sporadic appearances in the first year before becoming a semi-regular in the Premiership last season. Injury and form dictated that he has yet to establish himself as first choice and therefore the prevailing opinion before Saturday was that whilst people are disappointed that he is leaving you would find very few who would be especially devastated - perhaps the people who run the Marcos Alonso fans twitter account - but few others. However if we see performances again such as the one against Everton then he will be a sore loss indeed. Bolton Wanderers cannot compete with the financial might of Fiorentina, nor can they offer the glamour of the city despite our excellent pasty making heritage.
3) Trust in Youth
It says something about the quality of the lad that Josh Vela was brought in against a top-class Premiership midfield and didn't look out of place. He took on the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman - both international footballers - and stamped his authority on them like a seasoned professional.
Josh has been with the club since he was a young lad, and the staff behind-the-scenes have always had confidence in his ability to make it as a professional and so great credit must go to them for the part played in the creation of this modern midfielder. Comfortable on the ball and tough in the tackle - he really does have all the attributes to be an outstanding footballer.
Whilst of course he showed great confidence and ability, one minor niggle is that he often looked for the simple pass when a more experienced player might have attempted something more elaborate. This is in no way a criticism of his performance - more often than not these passes found their target - but will be something that should develop over time.
I think we're in the presence of an excellent talent, the likes of which we haven't seen in a generation. I just hope now that in the absence of Keith Andrews the lad is given minutes on the pitch in order to show his qualities.
News of the renewal of Tom Eaves' contract broke over the weekend and surprised one or two people. We all know his story - we all know that he has struggled with injury and form but the people who work with the lad every day have clearly seen enough to recommend that he is kept on for another three years. He did very well on loan at Bristol Rovers where he scored 7 in 17 appearances - I would expect that before the end of the season he'll make his first team debut for Bolton Wanderers. One to watch.
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The selection of the likes of Andy Lonergan, Sam Ricketts and Marvin Sordell provided some much needed hunger into the starting eleven. Sordell especially impressed me with his hold-up play and willingness to run into seemingly blind alleys in order to rescue possession. It also appeared to me that he has spent some considerable time in the gym of late - he was holding off Distin and Jagielka like they were mere mortals and not established Premiership and international footballers. He showed many a neat turn and trick in order to find space and lay the ball off to onrushing teammates. A really impressive performance and one that deserves a starting spot against his former allies at Watford. I firmly believe that of our present set he was the only Bolton striker who could have scored the goal in the manner that he did.
5) Moronic Football Supporters
I've used this column in the past to have a pop at a certain element of Bolton Wanderers' fanbase. I've made points about their apparent lack of education or footballing knowhow - and I'm going to do it again. Therefore if you do not want to read then feel free to skip to the supplemental point at the end which can serve as a Part Five for those who wish.
Anyway, we'll start with Everton. I don't know whether it's the make-up of the people from the city, the football, the alcoholic beverages imbibed on a matchday or whether it's just that they can't control themselves when released from their city - they just cannot behave themselves.
Now we're all grown-up (mostly), and we all live in the real world where you are going to get away fans mixing in with home supporters on days such as Saturday. Nobody minds and there is usually no problem. We had a group of Everton supporters sat in front of us and they were perfectly nice. Chatting about the game and celebrating respectfully when they scored - and enduring a bit of ribbing when we equalised with good humour. However this appears to be the exception rather than that rule. The majority of Everton supporters who had tickets for the home end chose to celebrate wildly when Steven Pienaar scored in the first half - many of whom were then subsequently ejected from the ground.
Over the course of the game this happened in stages - during a lull in play you could glance to the opposite stand and see the orange-coated stewards bundling someone down the steps and away, presumably to be sat in a cell somewhere and told to think about what they had done. This in isolation is not a unique occurance - but as John Heitinga smashed in the winner it kicked off big style. I expected the Ultimate Warrior to come down and do six laps of the pitch before gripping onto the congestion bars before gorilla-pressing an Everton above his head. There were punches thrown, insults hurled and in one case a Mars Bar chucked at an Everton fan. They should have used a Twix - two bars - two chances to hit. Anyway I digress. Fans were shoved down flights of stairs and general mayhem broke out. It was a real shame and put a downer on the occasion.
Right, onto Bolton Wanderers. Well one in particular and one who is well-known to the online community. I won't name him in this article but it should become apparent. I have known of him for some time but never had the joy of sitting in front of him for 90 LONG minutes. I took my usual season ticket seat and immediately spotted this individual behind me and I knew for a fact that my saint-like patience was going to be tested. From minute one to minute ninety I was subjected to illogical complaints about players who weren't even playing, the constant misjudging of who was on the ball (the best instance was when Marvin Sordell was told ‘come on Anelka you lazy shit' - ordinarily I would have taken this as some post-modern insult to Marv where the person was calling back to a great striker of old, but clearly here it was that he didn't have a clue what was going on.
Whenever Andy Lonergan had the chance to roll the ball out to a fullback - who was marked - this oaf would stand and shout BLOODY THROW IT - without so much as a thought to what would happen once the marked man lost possession. This happened on three or four occasions and by the end I was reduced to just shaking my head laughing. Every time he opened his mouhth (when he wasn't filling it with pie) he would spew out the most bizarre invectives - so much so that on each occasion I turned round and shook my head - I think I left the game with minor women's whiplash so often did I turn around and laugh in his face.
I find it remarkable that we have so many clueless fans. Fair enough, everyone sees the game differently and one person's man-of-the-match can be another person's poorest performer (or as I like to call him - Benik Afobe) - but this was something else. I apologise - a little - if I have offended any of his friends but I doubt that he actually has any so really it's a hollow apology at best. Unbelievable.
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And finally....Stu is back!
So we finally got him back - it has taken the best part of two years and countless hours of speculation and fervent dreaming but on the 81st minute he finally came back. Stuart Holden made his glorious return to the action and immediately looked like he'd never been away. He was confident and economical with his passing, and threw himself into one tackle with Fellaini that had your beloved writer looking away in fear before the elation of seeing him rise up like John Blake at the end of The Dark Knight Rises and carry on with his job - not as Batman, but as the superhero of our midfield.
No doubt it will take a few more cameo appearances for the first team and showings for the Development Squad (perhaps as part of a Justice League style line-up with David Wheater and Mark Davies) before he can be considered as a starter in the league side, but I cannot wait for that day to come. We all know what he can do, and to bring him in at this stage would be akin to a new major signing in terms of both quality and impact upon the club.