The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Tom Lloyd

THERE was a time, not too long ago, when Dar­ren Prat­ley was one of the most sought-after play­ers out­side the Premier League.

And after his sec­ond-half strike earned Bolton all three points against Mill­wall, man­ager Neil Len­non be­lieves the mid­fielder is re­cap­tur­ing the form which saw him so highly-rated dur­ing his days with Swansea.

The oft-ma­ligned Prat­ley is the lat­est proof that almost ev­ery­thing Len­non touches since ar­riv­ing at the Macron Sta­dium turns to gold – Bolton have lost only twice in the North­ern Ir­ish­man’s 11 games in charge.

How­ever, the 29-year-old was far from the only rea­son the Trot­ters recorded just a sec­ond vic­tory at The Den, old or new, in more than 80 years.

Lee Chung-yong caused the Lions de­fence fits ev­ery time he touched the ball and Andy Lon­er­gan pro­duced a spec­tac­u­lar late save to deny Mar­tyn Woolford.

But it was Prat­ley who was sin­gled out for spe­cial praise by his man­ager.

“Prat­ley was out­stand­ing in the things he does and it was a fan­tas­tic fin­ish,” said Len­non.

“I have al­ways thought he was a good player and we’re see­ing the Dar­ren Prat­ley of maybe four or five years ago.

“He has shown great character. He was the whip­ping boy and peo­ple turn on you very quickly but he has come through that. He has be­come a very im­por­tant cog in the team.

“It is a mas­sive win in the con­text of our sea­son. The style of foot­ball we played was very pleas­ing.

“What pleased me more than any­thing were the chances we cre­ated. The stuff we are try­ing to im­ple­ment in train­ing is there for all to see.”

In a scrappy open­ing to the game, Lee con­sis­tently pro­vided a touch of qual­ity – first flash­ing a ball across the face of goal be­fore despatch­ing a pin­point cross which was met by Tim Ream but su­perbly par­ried by David Forde.

It was the home side who cre­ated the best chance of the first pe­riod though as Lee Gre­gory latched on to a long ball but saw his an­gled drive drift wide of Lon­er­gan’s goal.

After the break, ref­eree Stu­art At­twell took cen­tre stage as he de­nied Mill­wall what ap­peared to be a clear penalty.

Another rak­ing long ball re­leased Gre­gory who poked the ball beyond the on­rush­ing Lon- er­gan be­fore be­ing brought down by the stop­per but At­twell waved play on, leav­ing Lions boss Ian Hol­loway apoplec­tic on the side­lines.

Rob Hall hit the post for the vis­i­tors be­fore Bolton truly made Mill­wall pay on 68 min­utes – Lee’s per­fectly-weighted pass find­ing Prat­ley who shrugged off Danny Shittu to crash an un­stop­pable shot in off the un­der­side of the bar.

Mill­wall huffed and puffed with­out the nec­es­sary qual­ity to grab an equaliser although Lon­er­gan did race off his line to deny Woolford in the dy­ing seconds and se­cure a fourth clean­sheet in a row.

And although Hol­loway was up­set by his team’s per­for­mance as a whole, he be­moaned the penalty decision which could well have changed the course of the game.

“The big­gest con­tentious is­sue of the whole game was very up­set­ting and very an­noy­ing,” he said.“If that’s not a foul then Gre­gory should have been booked for div­ing. It was clear to Bolton’s bench, to be fair, they knew it should have been a penalty and down to ten men, and that would have changed the com­plex­ion of the game.

“Do me a favour, book my man for div­ing or send their keeper off. Don’t just play on! But we have to be stand up and be counted – me and the team – and or­gan­ise our­selves to be able to play in front of our own crowd.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

HERO: Dar­ren Prat­ley scores the only goal

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