There was a different feel about this game. 6 excellent new arrivals (no, I can’t bring myself to refer to Shotton as “excellent” & he’s certainly not new) in the January transfer has changed everyone’s outlook somewhat. We’ve now got competition in every position & some amazing quality in the squad. Our promotion campaign has been given a shot in the arm, make no mistake.
For once I actually felt excited about a game & the tension of the last few months had gone from me. The tension was gone from the team & the crowd too. The performance reminded me of the way we played at the end of last season when we blew teams away. We never lost control of this. The atmosphere was fantastic too, only short of a full house due to the paltry turn out from Bolton (what happened to the 6,000 glory hunters I saw in the away end at Anfield the other week?)
It was a bit of an outing for the family too – The Mrs, Hipster Bearded Brother & my aluminium shield specialist father were ensconced in the lower reaches of the North Stand. I actually predicted the team correctly too for once – Ince in for Dawkins, otherwise we were unchanged from that great victory over hapless Cardiff.
Bolton? Yep, they’d nearly beaten that Liverpool team & by all accounts Neil Lennon had achieved a lot since replacing wee Dougie in October. Nobody was expecting a pushover. Not even Scott Calero sitting next to me.
We started well. Fluent stuff. Confident stuff. Ince was prominent on the right, immediately looking comfortable with his teammates. The Omar, Hughes & Hendrick combination in midfield was working well. It was instantly notable that Jeff had stepped up massively after his struggles of recent months. Well done Jeff.
Have to say I had my reservations about Ince. Clearly he’s gone off the boil a bit since his early outstanding form at Blackpool. Struggled at Palace, struggled at Forest (ok, will let him off that) & struggled at Hull. And an abortive, possibly hyped moved to Inter Milan. All that does make you think there’s got to be something wrong somewhere. Shame on me. I’ve cast my cynicism aside. It was an almost perfect debut, he was inches away from a hat trick & seemed to galvanise his teammates. I have to say I couldn’t quite believe it when that free kick went it. He’s a confident lad.
Hendrick put in his finest performance of the season to date. He was eager to receive the ball for once, knocked it around well & linked up brilliantly with his teammates. Always dangerous when drifting into the box, he so deserved those 2 goals. Let’s hope he kicks on from here & becomes the goalscoring box to box player of the season contender I hoped for at the start of the season. I’ve been moaning at him for months but so pleased at this performance.
Bolton did pretty well in that 1st half. The diminutive Bannan fizzed around in midfield to good effect & golden child, Zack Clough showed why everyone had been raving about him. He’s going to be some talent. Liam Trotter, meanwhile, concentrated on running around the pitch breaking people. He probably deserved to get sent off for one challenge, I think on Will.
I enjoyed the little cameo from Darren Bent. Clearly capable of making an impact even when coming on as sub. He just changes the ground rules for defenders when he comes on & gives us different options. Could have had a goal or two if his only colleagues had slipped him the right pass. Chief culprit was Dawkins, who after bounding on to the pitch like an excitable puppy, never quite got into the tempo of the game & looked out of sorts. The contrast between his tippy tappy languidness & the directness of Ince was very telling. Good to see Martin getting taken off too, he needs freshening up. Still had some great touches & a hand in the build up to 2 goals though. Plus the usual petulance & time spent examining the pitch from ground level .
Shotton. Still looked pretty awkward to me & did completely sky a cross into the South Stand on one of his rare forward outings. However, I have to accept that he gives the defence a bit more solidity & I thought he probably had his best game so fat for us. That long throw in is also a very potent weapon in our attacking armoury.
Hughes was superb. That mazy run to set up the 2nd goal was world class. He’s a player who is clearly just going to get better. Still only 19!
Fozzy’s also have his best run of form since last season. Solid & tenacious in defence & very effective in attack with those driven low crosses, he gave Bolton all sorts of problems.
It was great to get the 3rd goal just after the restart. It demonstrated our resilience. Their goal was a bit of a downer but I couldn’t really put that down to anyone’s specific error. I didn’t faze us at all. We just picked ourselves up & got on with searching for another goal.
We were never at risk in that 2nd half. The atmosphere was pretty special too, chants ringing round the whole stadium for once. Hendrick’s 2nd goal demonstrated that it’s not only Bent who can score from 3 yards out. Wardy & Ince went close to scoring but we had to settle for a fine 4-1 win.
That was it. Time to pop over to Nottingham to see The Kaiser Chiefs & ponder on that big match v Bournemouth. Come on you Rams!