Wanderers won’t win style awards for beating Rotherham United but that visceral roar of relief and joy which met the final whistle tells you not a single fan gives a figgy pudding how they claimed a first win since September.
Gary O’Neil’s first goal in more than two years sealed three points against a side every inch as tense and fragmented in possession as Bolton.
Until that stage the tone had been frustration. Wanderers had seized a first-half lead via Sammy Ameobi, somewhat against the run of play, but had blown it inside four minutes.
But Phil Parkinson’s side showed impressive resolve to come out fighting in the second half with renewed purpose, a better tempo, and most importantly some attacking intent to claim a second in a game they simply had to win.
Wanderers may remain in the bottom three thanks to results elsewhere but this felt like an important first step in salvaging a season which looked to be heading nowhere fast.
For the majority of the first half a shot on target, let alone a goal seemed fanciful as both sides traded nervous jabs on Boxing Day.
The Millers’ rangy striker Michael Smith, who had been a handful in the corresponding game in October, had the first effort of note, lashing a half volley just over Ben Alnwick’s crossbar from the edge of the box.
Semi Ajayi also put a header wide, protesting all the while to referee Jeremy Simpson that his shirt had been pulled by Mark Beevers.
Rotherham’s football was hardly intricate. But it was proving more successful.
And even when the visitors cleared their lines with a long punt from the back, David Wheater’s off-balance header nearly presented ex-teammate Jamie Proctor with a chance on the edge of the box, Jason Lowe getting back to make the block.
Pinned back for the first half-hour, Wanderers struggled again in possession until Ameobi sprung into life to force Rodak into a flapping save with a cross-shot. Clayton Donaldson, in for his first start since November 10, then kept the Rotherham keeper busy as he stabbed a close-range effort wide.
Within moments, Bolton had the opening goal. O’Neil fed Ameobi on the left and those dancing feet earned space enough to get a yard on his defender and a skimming shot into the bottom corner.
Wanderers have not wasted many points after taking the lead this season, as rare an occasion as that has been. But to concede an equaliser within four minutes was really a kick in the teeth.
Joe Newell’s free-kick from the left was well-delivered but Vaulks was completely unmarked as he headed his fifth of the season past Alnwick.
Ameobi looked to be in trouble as he limped off at the interval but thankfully re-emerged to play his part in a much-improved second-half display.
Wanderers did get the ball in the back of the net shortly after half time, via Chris Doidge, but referee Simpson pulled play back for a foul by Marc Wilson on Vyner.
Williams also went mighty close to restoring the lead when his blast from the edge of the box was hacked off the line by Ajayi.
At the other end, Rotherham will look at a fine save from Alwnick – pushing aside another effort from Vaulks – as the moment on which the game tipped against them. From there, Bolton looked more of a threat going forward and after Doidge had tipped one cross from Jason Lowe wide of the post, O’Neil came up with the goods.
The move was instigated by Ameobi and Donaldson down the left but as a low cross came into the box there was plenty for veteran midfielder O’Neil to do as he re-orgainsed his feet at the far post and slotted a shot past three defenders on the line.
Wanderers were holding on at the end. Sub Josh Magennis went close with a free kick but otherwise it was Millers pressure all the way.
Jon Taylor came off the bench to put some dangerous crosses into the box and defender Clark Robertson headed over during a whopping six minutes of injury time.
When the final whistle did blow, the relief was palpable.
Fans who stuck impressively behind their team have been aching for a reason to celebrate, and now they had their chance.
If those positive vibes – which are created entirely by results, not media reports, tweets or sound-bytes – can be carried through to the Stoke City game, then Parkinson may yet get his Christmas wish to be out of the bottom three by 2019.
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