MONDAY BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 3 Doncaster Rovers 0
PLAYERS and managers rarely admit to reading their own press but you have to wonder whether a certain collection of tweets served as extra incentive for Wanderers’ best attacking performance of the season.
For all the criticism that has come the way of Dougie Freedman’s side this week, the very public condemnation on Fabrice Muamba’s official Twitter account after Tuesday’s defeat against Huddersfield Town may have hit harder than most.
Freedman has had to take a crash course in Twitter since turning up at the Reebok and it’s safe to say he is not the biggest fan.
But whether you agree with the 140-character assertions on Muamba’s timeline that there are “too many average players” in the Whites set up right now, or indeed that “everybody can beat Wanderers these days,” it would not have been a shock to see those comments printed out and pinned on the dressing room door prior to kick off against Doncaster.
Who knows, maybe they owe Muamba’s account a debt, because from the first whistle there was something different compared with the Tuesday’s tepid fayre.
Freedman had made five changes, gambles even, and was getting brickbats on his favourite social media website even before kick-off.
Jermaine Beckford, Neil Danns, Zat Knight, Rob Hall and Medo Kamara were dropped, while Joe Mason, Chris Eagles, Alex Baptiste, Chung-Yong Lee and Darren Pratley came back into the equation.
It is hard to dispute that every one of the changes did not pay off handsomely.
Baptiste slipped in effortlessly at left-back and allowed Tim Ream to reform the bearded duo in the middle of defence with Matt Mills.
Pratley bombed up and down the pitch, allowing Andre Moritz to control operations with a myriad of deft and delightful touches.
Chung-Yong was lively, polar opposite in fact to his rather sterile second-half performance against Huddersfield, while new boy Joe Mason looked energetic, patrolling the front line and bossing two big defenders like a striker way beyond his tender years.
Lastly Eagles – Wanderers’ saviour for much of last season but almost a forgotten man in the last couple of months. With his contract up at the end of the season there seemed something rather ominous about his absence from the side but this was indeed a display that shows he has got plenty more left to give.
You could see instantly that the tempo was up on the previous two weeks, with Wanderers encouraged to attack by a deep-lying Doncaster defence.
You can hardly blame the South Yorkshiremen – and it was a tactic that the Whites had used themselves in recent victories over Watford and Bournemouth.
In might just have worked. In the opening 20 minutes Andy Lonergan spread himself to block a cross-shot from Mark Duffy after a cleverly-worked free-kick and then watched helplessly as a header from Bongani Khumalo bounced off the inside of his post.
Wanderers were dominant in possession, though, and with Moritz pulling the strings behind a mobile front three, a breakthrough looked inevitable.
Pratley tried his best to make it happen, swiping one volley wide and then he was denied a stonewall penalty after being barged to the floor by Enda Stevens.
A sense of frustration threatened to creep in, with every backward pass being greeted by a groan from the terraces.
But the honour fell to new loan signing Mason, who collected Moritz’s chipped pass with a deft touch, turned inside Luke McCullough and then got a bit of luck as his stab at goal deflected in off the Doncaster man.
Wanderers fans screamed for their side to keep the pressure on and so Moritz’s goal just six minutes later was a massive moment.
Only a sprawling save from Ross Turnbull had denied Mason his second but as Moritz collected the clearance on the edge of the box, his calm and measured curling effort bounced perfectly off the inside of the post and over the line.
If there is a criticism of this performance it is that a third goal took so long in coming. Mason hit the side netting and Turnbull continued to show why he was once on Chelsea’s books, continually getting his body in the way.
The Doncaster keeper repelled efforts from Eagles, Moritz, Medo and Danns and was the one thing standing between his side and an absolute pounding.
Quite what referee Richard Clark saw to disallow Matt Mills’ header 15 minutes from time is anyone’s guess. Defender Tim Ream – who seemed just as puzzled - later suggested it may have been because a Doncaster marker had been blocked by one of the Wanderers players in the six yard box.
The American also noted that if that goal had stood, then we may have been looking at “four, five or six” and it was hard to disagree.
Danns eventually grabbed the one we had been waiting for, driving low into the bottom left hand corner after fellow sub Hall had combined with Mason to cut the ball back from the right.
It was a perfect finish and one that in Freedman’s words “sent the fans home happy.” With Mark Davies and Josh Vela’s return to action confirmed and Stuart Holden back in town this week to continue his own much-anticipated comeback effort, things are definitely not as downbeat as they might have seemed in midweek.
But it remains to be seen just how many attacking lessons have been learned in this performance, and whether they will continue into the local derby with Wigan on Sunday.
Until Wanderers get back to a position where they can challenge for a spot in the top six – now nine points away – criticism might be something Freedman and his side have to put up with.