Bolton Wanderers made it three Sky Bet League One wins from three and maintained their perfect start to the season with victory at Bristol Rovers.
In front of 700 travelling fans, Josh Vela fired Wanderers into an early lead at the Memorial Stadium. Jay Spearing’s wonderful free kick then doubled the advantage before the interval.
The Gas responded through Ellis Harrison early in the second half, but in the end the margin of victory could have been greater as Wanderers secured all three points and leapfrogged to the top of league table.
Phil Parkinson named an unchanged starting team following the weekend’s win at AFC Wimbledon. The only change was on the bench, where Conor Wilkinson took the place of Max Clayton.
Whilst the home side started brightly, Wanderers wasted no time in silencing a vibrant crowd and were a goal up after just six minutes.
A swift counter attack saw Jamie Proctor collect the ball inside his own half before combining with Mark Davies. He slipped a neat pass into Vela, who after one touch slammed the ball beyond the goalkeeper at the near post via a deflection off a defender.
Much of the next 20 or so minutes passed without any real incident. Rovers striker Matty Taylor was lively in and around the Bolton penalty area, but saw any potential openings snuffed out by defensive duo Mark Beevers and David Wheater.
Midway through the half a moment of quality from skipper Spearing doubled Bolton’s lead.
Gary Madine, whose presence caused endless problems for the Rovers defenders, was hauled down 20 yards from goal. Spearing stepped up, before curling a delicious free kick up and over the wall and into the top corner.
Wanderers felt they should have had a penalty as half time approached. Madine was once again the focal point, superbly plucking a long pass forward out of the sky before being bundled over when attempting to pull the trigger. The referee remained unmoved.
Bolton comfortably saw the remainder of the half out by retaining possession in the midfield areas, sending the home side in frustrated at the interval.
The second period started in a much more open fashion, as Rovers pushed men forward in an attempt to reduce the deficit.
Sub Jermaine Easter saw a couple of speculative shots from distance deflect into Mark Howard’s arms, whilst up the other end Davies saw a slaloming run into the area halted a last ditch block from a covering defender.
On 57 minutes another Rovers sub, Billy Bodin, was fouled on the edge of the area. Lee Brown saw a free kick, not to dissimilar to Spearing’s earlier goal, tipped on to the post by Howard with Harrison reacting quicker than anyone to fire home the rebounds.
Clearly buoyed by the goal, the hosts piled men forward in an attempt to level the scores. Bolton responded by introducing Chris Taylor and Zach Clough in place of Liam Trotter and Proctor.
Madine continued to be the out ball for Wanderers, holding up play and winning a series of free kicks that both frustrated the opposition and ate up valuable time.
Bolton almost nicked a third in the final throes.
Clough latched onto a superb touch from sub Conor Wilkinson and embarked on a mesmerising run into the heart of the penalty area, weaving his way around three Bristol defenders. The attempted return pass to Wilkinson, who looked certain to score, was cut out.
Easter flashed a shot into the side netting in Rovers’ only late attempt of note, as time eventually ticked by and Wanderers secured their third consecutive league win of the season.