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Bolton Wanderers' Middling Attack

Bolton Wanderers have a team goal scoring record that is solidly mid-table. However, the way Bolton’s attack have arrived at the middle of the road is a matter of extremes.

Chris Brunskill

After an attacking outburst that saw Bolton Wanderers score 6 goals over two matches, the club has now tallied 41 goals in league play this season. This is good enough to put Bolton in a tie for 11th in overall goals scored with Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough.

However, with the exception of the highly compressed Own Goal category, Bolton do not have another ranking that is mid-table.

Consider the table below. The data was gathered from, which categorizes goals scored into five different categories.

Team Open  Play Counter Attack Set Piece Penalty Own Goal Total
Leicester 43 (2) 2 (T-3) 5 (T-22) 9 (1) 3 (1) 62 (1)
Derby 44 (1) 0 (T-15) 11 (T-6) 4 (T-5) 1 (T-10) 60 (2)
Nottingham 34 (T-4) 0 (T-15) 14 (2) 4 (T-5) 2 (T-2) 54 (3)
Burnley 39 (3) 2 (T-3) 7 (T-18) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 52 (4)
Reading 27 (T-9) 3 (T-1) 15 (1) 4 (T-5) 2 (T-2) 51 (5)
Watford 31 (T-6) 1 (T-9) 10 (T-8) 6 (3) 0 (T-21) 48 (6)
Huddersfield 31 (T-6) 0 (T-15) 9 (T-10) 3 (T-8) 2 (T-2) 45 (7)
Ipswich 26 (T-11) 1 (T-9) 13 (T-3) 2 (T-17) 2 (T-2) 44 (T-8)
Leeds 28 (8) 2 (T-3) 12 (5) 2 (T-17) 0 (T-21) 44 (T-8)
Bournemouth 24 (16) 1 (T-9) 9 (T-10) 7 (2) 1 (T-10) 42 (10)
Wigan 23 (17) 0 (T-15) 13 (T-3) 3 (T-8) 2 (T-2) 41 (T-11)
Middlesbrough 25 (T-14) 3 (T-1) 10 (T-8) 2 (T-17) 1 (T-10) 41 (T-11)
Bolton 34 (T-4) 0 (T-15) 5 (T-22) 1 (T-23) 1 (T-10) 41 (T-11)
Birmingham 27 (T-9) 2 (T-3) 7 (T-18) 2 (T-17) 1 (T-10) 39 (14)
Sheffield Wednesday 25 (T-14) 0 (T-15) 9 (T-10) 2 (T-17) 2 (T-2) 38 (T-15)
Blackburn 26 (T-11) 0 (T-15) 8 (T-15) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 38 (T-15)
QPR 26 (T-11) 0 (T-15) 8 (T-15) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 38 (T-15)
Brighton 20 (19) 1 (T-9) 9 (T-10) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 34 (18)
Millwall 17 (20) 2 (T-3) 6 (21) 3 (T-8) 2 (T-2) 30 (T-19)
Barnsley 21 (18) 0 (T-15) 4 (24) 5 (4) 0 (T-21) 30 (T-19)
Doncaster 12 (24) 1 (T-9) 11 (T-6) 2 (T-17) 2 (T-2) 28 (T-21)
Blackpool 15 (T-21) 0 (T-15) 9 (T-10) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 28 (T-21)
Yeovil 14 (23) 2 (T-3) 8 (T-15) 3 (T-8) 1 (T-10) 28 (T-21)
Charlton 15 (T-21) 1 (T-9) 7 (T-18) 1 (T-23) 0 (T-21) 24 (24)

Looking at goals scored from Open Play, Bolton are tied for 4th having score 34 goals from open play. This indicates that Bolton have a good collection of attacking talent, and as a team have been effective at putting the ball in the back of the net. I will admit that Bolton’s open play goal scoring record took me by surprise. I still have the struggles of the team, and especially the strikers, early in the season in my mind when I think of the Wanderers’ attack.

The idea that the Whites have been the 4th most effective team at scoring from the run of play took me a bit by surprise.

The rankings in the other four categories, Counter Attack, Set Piece, Penalty, and Own Goal, surprised me less. Goals scored on the counter and Own Goals are both highly compressed categories. Counter Attack goals and Own Goals both max out at 3 and have a bottom value of 0. So, a goal here or there makes a big difference in a team’s ranking. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Bolton have not scored a goal all season that was categorized as being on the counter (which puts them tied for 15th), and they have only forced a single own goal all season (which puts them tied for 10th). Bolton ranks in a tie for 23rd on the number of goals scored from the penalty spot this season with 1, Leicester tops the list with 9.

To a certain extent I feel that Counter Attack Goals, Own Goals, and Penalties are all out of the team’s hands to a certain extent. They all rely on the opposing team making a mistake (being out of position or having a bad deflection come off of a player) or the referee to make a call.

The one area that I feel that Bolton could look to improve, with regards to goal scoring, is on set pieces.

With a meagre 5 goals coming from set pieces this season, Wanderers are in a tie for 22nd amongst Sky Bet Championship teams in this category. The Whites also find themselves with 10 less goals in this area than league leaders Reading, who have scored 15 set piece goals.

Unlike own goals, penalties, and goals scored on the counter, goals from set pieces seem to come down to taking advantage and executing on set plays when the opportunities are earned. Whether Bolton needs better service on set pieces, the big guys need to fight harder to get on the ends of free kicks, or players just need to finish the opportunities that present themselves, I’m not sure.

However, if the Wanderers want to improve their mid-table offense, they need to maintain their top of the table goal-scoring form in open play and work to convert more of the set piece opportunities that the team earns.