MATCH REPORT: Wanderers produce stunning win against Oxford United

Wanderers produced a real red-carpet display to hammer play-off hopefuls Oxford United and show beyond doubt that they still intend to be in line for prizes at the end of the season.

Wing-backs Nat Ogbeta and Josh Dacres-Cogley started the ball rolling in the first half, the latter scoring to celebrate his 28th birthday in style.

But the really impressive part came after the break as George Thomason, Aaron Collins and Josh Sheehan capped off a sensational victory with goals from the very top drawer.

There had been considerable pressure building around the game and no shortage of folk looking to write off the Whites’ automatic promotion chances. Derby lived up to their end of the bargain, beating Reading to stay second, but a message was sent out loud and clear ahead of the trip to Pride Park with this scoreline.

Wanderers made three changes from the side that drew at Exeter City. Dacres-Cogley returned on the right, with Gethin Jones re-taking his spot in the back three in favour of Jack Iredale.

Nat Ogbeta replaced Randell Williams on the left and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson came in for the injured Victor Adeboyejo.

Evatt had asked for an intimidating atmosphere and certainly got positive vibes from the off, the crowd feeding off what was a very positive start from the Whites.

Eoin Toal teased an early cross-shot across Jamie Cumming’s goal which dropped just wide of the far post and Bodvarsson brought an outstanding save from the Oxford keeper with a downward header which was consequently flagged offside.

Cameron Branagan’s shooting prowess from distance is well-known to Bolton, and the midfielder curled an early free-kick into the side-netting of Joel Coleman’s goal to snap the home side back into focus.

From there, only one team controlled the game. Josh Sheehan and Paris Maghoma fizzed with confidence and invention in the middle of the park and the two wing-backs, Ogbeta and Dacres-Cogley, provided a target for an angled ball that often looked like it could unlock the visitors.

Ogbeta could have opened the scoring earlier than he did, dragging a daisy-cutter at goal from Sheehan’s clever ball before getting it completely right second time around.

Collins and Bodvarsson swapped passes on the right from Dacres-Cogley’s throw, George Thomason eventually finding space on the edge of the box to roll a pass for the on-loan Swansea defender to drill a shot past Cumming – his first Bolton goal since scoring minutes into his debut at Carlisle United.

Pressure lifted somewhat the confidence really began to bubble in midfield. Sheehan had been picked out by the TV pundits as the player to watch, and while he had lacked a little something over 90 minutes at Exeter, this was the Welshman at his creative best once again.

For all the pretty stuff, it was a bit of route one that brought Bolton their second goal. Santos looked for another of those booming passes to try and pick out Dacres-Cogley but as Greg Leigh and Cumming collided, the ball dropped nicely for the birthday boy and he lifted a neat finish over the retreating Ciaron Brown to score his third of the campaign.

It was still no piece of cake – but the party tricks certainly started to come out from there. Maghoma was a one-man showreel of twists, flicks and nutmegs, and looked the one most likely to cut through for a third.

Another goal would have killed it, for certain. But with St James Park still so fresh in the mind, the lack of a clear-cut chance to round off all the clever build-up just left enough of a doubt in the air as the two sides ran back off the pitch.

Oxford nearly contributed to their own downfall a few minutes after the restart as another risky back-pass from Elliott Moore left Cumming with no space at all, and Collins very nearly diverted the ball into the net with his block.

Collins might have done better as he ran on to a ball over the top from Maghoma, blasting an angled shot over the top, and Ogbeta skewed another effort wide after a slick interchange between Collins and Dacres-Cogley on the edge of the box.

Bodvarsson took on a cheerleading role to pump some energy back into the home support, and they responded in kind. They didn’t have to wait long for a reward. But exactly who claims the goal might be one for the ladies and gentlemen of the dubious goals panel. Thomason will probably have the best claim – his powerful drive seemingly clipping the backside of Collins and the side of defender Leigh before loping past Cumming into the net. For once, it is an inquest in which Bolton Wanderers won’t mind being involved.

If Collins doesn’t get the third, he most certainly claimed the fourth. And it will surely go down as one of the best team goals of the Evatt Era.

The Welshman finished well at the far post – but that was only the half of it. A brilliant move from right to left with Maghoma and Collins at the heart of it, the kind of football that really did have a whiff of promotion class.

You could have forgiven Bolton for taking their foot off the gas at that stage but they kept on pushing for more. And Sheehan fully deserved the fifth of the night – a curling left-footed effort which simply had to be admired.

Thomason, Collins and Ogbeta were withdrawn with a good 20 minutes to go, Bolton able to start thinking about Saturday’s game at Derby in a much more positive frame of mind.

If Cameron Jerome could have finished off a delightful run on to Bodvarsson’s flick, Cumming pushing away his effort after beating Sam Long all ends up, it really would have been the perfect night.

Morley also got on alongside Iredale with 10 minutes to go, his partner Emily having given birth to his first child, Dottie Rae, just hours before the game. He replaced Bodvarsson – as one quick-witted reader tweeted “Daddy for Dadi” – and played in behind a front two of Dempsey and Jerome.

He tried to bend one shot into the top corner to mark the occasion but, for once, couldn’t produce a moment for the cameras.

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