January after Stuart Holden’s take over
Macron Stadium played host to Brentford in Stuart Holden’s first game in charge of the Trotters who were undoubtedly looking to bounce back from the disappointing performance vs Fleetwood. Rumors had it Holden would line his squad up in a 4-3-3 wide, favoring the balanced midfield and attack options over the more defensively sound 4-4-1-1 Neil Lennon seemed to favor. David Wheater took the arm band as the Wanderers warmed up for the match.
Brentford lined up in a more traditional 4-1-2-3, looking maybe to exploit Bolton after a head coach change and a rough loss last week.
Bolton did not start well, with Brentford hard tackling their way into an early advantage. Bolton nearly conceded in the 10th minute, and would have if not for the efforts of Elliot Parrish, a recent arrival at the Macron, and Marc Tierney. However, eventually, after some cajoling from the side lines by Holden, the home squad turned on the style, taking control of the ball and keeping it well as they grew into the game. At the half hour mark Simon Dawkins, ex-Derby player, scored a peach of a goal, beating two defenders with his first touch and caressing the ball gently passed the far post and into the corner of the net. It would be the match winner, but not for lack of trying as the Bolton midfield dominated proceedings for the rest of the evening. If not for Brentford’s Harlee Dean, Bolton would have won a very comfortable victory.
Bolton vs Brentford
Man of the Match: Simon Dawkins, 8.7 MR
Bolton’s next game would see them coincidentally travel to Brentford for a FA Cup Fourth round match-up. Stuart Holden’s men would no doubt be hoping for a repeat of last match, or an even more comfortable victory. However, with the board expectations largely reached in this competition none would have blamed the Trotters for bowing out at this point away from home. The teams would line up in the exact same manner as they did only 5 days earlier, with only a few changes to the first teams.
It was a very similar match to the last, with Brentford tackling hard and often early on, seeing Bolton’s Loyd Isgrove limp off around the 22nd minute mark and the match would see the teams head into the locker rooms tied at 0’s.
However, it only took Bolton 12 minutes to break the deadlock. Emmanuel Ledesma hit a cross into the near post, where David Wheater’s meaty English forehead met it in a delicate kiss to flick the ball into the 6 yard line over the sprawling Tom Heaton and onto the unlikely head of Jay Spearing for the match winning goal.
Bolton vs Brentford FA Cup Fourth Round
Man of the Match: Jay Spearing, 8.3 MR
Bolton’s final match of the month would see them travel to 3rd placed Reading in what would be the first real test for Stuart Holden and his men. Bolton again would line up in the, becoming more familiar 4-3-3 wide formation with top scorer Zach Clough leading the line.
Reading would line up in a 4-4-2, a classic formation, coupling the powers of Simon Cox and Pavel Pogrebnyak in an attacking display that would put most defenses to the sword.
Again, Bolton were not lively in the opening minutes almost allowing a goal in the 12th minute when a long ball hoofed up field was flicked on by Pogrebnyak and Simon Cox unleashed a fearsome curling half volley towards the near post. However Elliot Parish was equal to it somehow, getting down with a very strong hand to bat the ball past the post.
Elliot Parish makes a heart stopping save in front of fans in the Madejski Stadium.
However, Bolton found their feet quickly, and 8 minutes later Emmanuel Ledesma hit a looping in swinger of a corner that was cleared by center back Jake Cooper, but only as far as Josh Vela. Vela quickly picked up his head, and found Darren Prately unmarked at the top of the box. Prately hit the ball first time unleashing a low worm-burner of a shot that caught a lucky deflection on the goal line and rolled past the diving keeper for the opening goal.
Bolton continued to grow into the match, dominating possession against one of the front runners for promotion, however Reading would continue to press for a goal in front of their home fans. With time running down, and Reading throwing more and more men forward it was an incisive break that saw the game clinched for the Wanderers as the ball found it’s way to Jay Spearing, with the defense behind him he took off from the half-way mark at a sprint. As he neared the 18, the defense began to catch up and collapse and he picked his head up to find the run of Zach Clough perfectly. Zach Clough’s first time effort left the stranded keeper helpless and he wheeled away celebrating his 7th goal of the season, and his first goal in 15 hours of competitive play.
Clough’s celebration was emphatic, fitting for a goal that breaks his drought.
Bolton vs Reading
Man of the Match: Stoke Loanee Jordan Willis, 8.1 MR
Stuart Holden’s first 3 games saw Bolton gain 9 points. The club is on a high, and Holden seems like he may be able to keep them playing like this. He’s undoubtedly delighted with the way the club is performing and has turned some things around already, such as helping Clough to find the net again after struggling for so long.
Those 9 points did a world of good for both player confidence and table standing as the club rose from 11th to 9th place, only two points off of the bottom playoff spot.
Player of the Month
The tenacious center midfield skipper has made a return to form after a season long loan at Blackburn last year, he had only featured 7 times under Lennon thus far this year. However, having started the last two games under Stuart Holden, Bolton’s captain seems to have found renewed life at the Macron Stadium, having scored and assisted once in the last two games he’s looking like a man working for a manager he likes.
February 2016 Fixture List
Bolton fans probably shouldn’t be celebrating their form too early, as next month is both incredibly busy and difficult.