Nowhere in the Football League was a 1-0 victory, achieved with just 26 per cent possession, earned or celebrated with such passion.
Derby – for a week at least the darlings of the national press following their midweek victory over Manchester United in the Carabao Cup – were out-run, out-thought and out-fought.
Given the build-up it was tough to spot there were two teams involved in Saturday’s game. Frank Lampard’s Derby, as they have recently been christened, earned plenty of plaudits for their work at Old Trafford. But the former England midfielder is quickly discovering that the Championship is a different animal altogether when the camera’s spotlight is turned off.
Beaten at Millwall, at Rotherham, the Rams can now count Bolton on their list of bloodied noses.
The architect of the victory, Phil Parkinson, shouted himself so hoarse during the game he was unable to speak to the press after the game. A few supporters will surely have done the same. For while there had been some criticism of the manager’s recent strategies, here each letter of his instruction was carried out to the syllable.
This was the same formation which wilted against Sheffield United and QPR, played with a completely different attitude.
Of course, it helped Wanderers had a lead to protect as early as the 10th minute. Will Buckley’s fine cross was headed home with aplomb by Craig Noone, sparking a touching celebration in the stands with team-mate Stephen Darby.
The defender, who was forced to retire this month after learning he had motor neurone disease, was in the stands for the first time since news of his illness became public knowledge.
Wanderers had run out of the tunnel wearing his number 23 shirt, setting the tone for an occasion where they would not let him down.
If Darby tackles his life head-on with the same desire he did football, then there is no telling what inspiration he can still give to this football club.
From the moment Noone’s goal hit the back of the net there was a different sound reverberating around the stadium. One of positivity.
Events on and off the pitch have tested fans’ belief of late, yet any animosities were laid to one side for the remaining 80 minutes as every tackle, pass and shot were willed on from the stands.
Derby controlled the ball for farcical lengths of time but lacked the snap and guile which had caused United so many problems a few days earlier. Lampard had named an unchanged line-up for a third game running – and one wonders whether he regretted the decision as he walked on to the team coach on Saturday evening?
Wanderers attacked periodically and could have had a penalty when Buckley appeared to be shoved to the ground by Jayden Bogle. Not for the first time on the afternoon, referee Scott Duncan left the home crowd unhappy.
Jack Hobbs deserved to keep his place in the team after a good display at Ipswich. Here, he was nigh-on heroic alongside David Wheater at centre-half. The former Nottingham Forest man made a string of important interventions on a day when Bolton’s defensive effort was immaculate.
There were marked returns to top form for Jason Lowe and Joe Williams in the middle, too, while Erhun Oztumer provided more evidence of his increasing influence at this level of football, flitting between the lines to offer a constant target for a pass.
Into the second half, Derby began to lose faith. Wanderers had more of the ball and created some decent chances on the break.
Buckley had dwelled too long on an excellent opportunity with the scores still goalless but kept working and forced Scot Carson into a full-length stop.
Harry Wilson had a shot deflected narrowly wide of the post for Derby but it wasn’t until late on that the visitors managed a shot on target. Remi Matthews – in for his league debut in lieu of the injured Benn Alnwick – saved smartly from Mason Mount with his feet.
Wanderers had another two penalty appeals waved away by referee Duncan, whose odd decision-making looked to be Derby’s best route back into the game. But the frustration did not affect their performance, nor the shape which held together so well under late pressure.
After the final whistle, fans stood to applaud the players off the field knowing full well what an effort it had been. There was no talk of formation, or line-ups, just application.
Down in the tunnel a row of the players’ ‘Darby 23’ shirts were neatly laid out to be signed by the Bolton players. Magnanimously, Derby boss Lampard also penned a message of support on his way out of the stadium.
He had enjoyed happier times in these parts – treading the same path with a Premier League trophy in hand in 2005 whilst at Chelsea – but may have picked up a valuable lesson in his own burgeoning managerial career.
It was left to a man with nearly 500 games under his belt as a manager, Steve Parkin, to sum up a win which left Wanderers a point away from the play-off positions.
“When we get the first goal we’re hard to beat,” he said. “That’s the history of results we’ve had, really.
“It makes such a difference and puts the onus on the opponents to be a little bit more open, change their game-plan. Our lads fed off that well.
“We’ve talked long and hard about the home form and we just wanted to put things in place that the lads could hold on to and get it going.
“I must say we knew they were going to have lots of possession, we knew they were going to play out from the back, you can’t stop that because technically they are so good. But you can be resolute in defence, have a good shape about you, and have a good group work ethic. We were magnificent in that respect.
“Really, we might have nicked another one or two towards the end, and Remi has been called upon to make a good save at the end but hasn’t had anything more to do.”
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