The Whites’ effort at Queens Park Rangers had been everything their previous outing at Wigan was not. The passion had returned, there were shades of the confidence that has ebbed away during a turbulent, traumatic season. And even Lady Luck – conspicuous by her absence for most of the season – made a welcome appearance.
Will Buckley’s opening goal 10 minutes before half time may have had that touch of good fortune but it was the wide man’s willingness to gamble, in the hope of feeding off a loose ball, that was mainly responsible for sending the visitors in at the break 1-0 up.
Callum Connolly displayed the same determination for Wanderers’ second goal with 20 minutes to go, pouncing after Rangers keeper Joe Lumley had got a hand to Sammy Ameobi’s strike.
Any thoughts that Bolton could simply see out the remaining time with a degree of comfort were dashed by Nahki Wells, who had been introduced moments before the Whites had doubled the lead, but Phil Parkinson’s men, roared on throughout by a vocal away crowd, came through the remainder of the game – plus five added minutes to really shred the nerves – unscathed.
Bolton remain deep in the relegation mire but, having cut the gap to safety to five points and with games at home to bottom team Ipswich and a Middlesbrough side who go into tomorrow night’s game against Bristol City on the back of four straight defeats there still remains a semblance of hope.
For context, QPR have had a worse run of results in 2019 than their visitors. They have beaten high-flying Leeds and so could not be taken lightly but that was their only victory in 11 games that have garnered just five points.
Their supporters’ frustrations were clear, not least when the returning Angel Rangel was hauled off after just over an hour – once the fourth official realised he had held up Pawel Wszolek’s number by mistake – as Steve McClaren brought on the size and strength of Matt Smith up front.
They were baffled as to why Eberechi Eze, such a tormentor in the reverse fixture, was left kicking his heels on the bench.
That they have such riches to call upon from the bench, and are virtually safe for this season, suggests there is always someone worse off than yourselves.
Wanderers’ twin towers, Mark Beevers and David Wheater had been reunited in the centre of defence and they had a huge hand in Brighton loanee Tomer Hemed being virtually anonymous before he made way for Wells.
QPR had shaded the early stages with Luke Freeman inches away from making the vital contact with Rangel’s dangerous ball across the face of goal and Josh Scowen crashing a shot against Remi Matthews’ post.
Freeman also had a couple of sights of goal, sending a free kick from the edge of the box wide and bringing a save from Matthews.
But when the opener came it went Wanderers’ way, with willing runner and the home defenders’ constant menace, Josh Magennis, at the heart of it. His header back across goal from Joe Williams’ cross was heading inside the post. Lumley scrambled and reached out his left hand to parry it, but he could only palm it into the body of Buckley, charging in in anticipation, and the ricochet was kind as it bounced over the line.
Magennis had another chance just before the hour mark when Ameobi picked him out in the centre but the striker could not find the finish the impressive move, cutting QPR open with precision, had deserved.
Another Ameobi run and cross saw Buckley almost double his and his team’s tally but agonisingly his finish cannoned back off the underside of the bar, with Gary O’Neil unable to capitalise on the rebound.
It was left to Callum Connolly to score what proved the winner on 70 minutes. Ameobi was somewhat unfortunate to see his low drive saved but again Lumley could only look on as an energetic Wanderers player was first to the ball and finished off for a 2-0 lead.
That prompted more unrest from the disgruntled home fans, some of whom saw fit to make their way out. In the away end the travelling supporters were perhaps starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, their team will still be in the Championship next season. At the very least, they were given a performance that restored some of the pride in their club that had gone AWOL at Wigan two weeks earlier.
However, if there had been any notion the north-west contingent would be able to sit back and relax for the last 20 minutes that was soon dismissed as, in a frantic passage of play, Wells’ fierce shot was saved by Matthews, who also got to the follow-up from Bright Osayi-Samuel. QPR kept the ball alive but Jake Bidwell headed over, to the relief of the visitors.
The fears increased when Wells did make the breakthrough with a fine finish to make it 2-1 but Wanderers were able to see out the time and bring their supporters much-needed cheer as they head into yet another critical week.
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