Bolton Wanderers have had a bit of a weird season generally thus far. Not only have we actually begun winning matches and looked vaguely threatening in attack upon occasion, we've also found that strange ability to stop teams scoring goals - apart from when we somehow managed to lose to the footballing superpowers of Chesterfield, Peterborough United and Swindon Town (and Everton's under 23s).
With less than four months to go until the end of the League One season with the Play-Off Final on May 20th (scary right?), it's time to take a look at some of the key stats from this season.
Unusually for Bolton, we have built our success this season on a solid defence. I can't remember the last time a Wanderers side was 1) able to defend, and 2) didn't look like conceding every time an opponent attacked. All hail Mark Beevers.
Bizarrely, Bolton currently have the third best defence in the whole of England having conceded at a rate of just 0.73 goals per game, a figure only bettered by runaway Premier League leaders Chelsea (0.68) and Brighton & Hove Albion (0.69). That's despite throwing away a lead to lose 2-1 at home to Swindon Town in our last league match which, had we avoided, we would now have the best defence in the country.
Of course, we can't expect everything to change overnight so it perhaps comes as no surprise whatsoever that the increased focus on defending has taken priority over putting the ball in the other team's net.
I honestly can't pin any blame on Phil Parkinson for that, but the lack of goals remains a concern. Our attack has been massively wasteful with chances on countless occasions this season, and it has cost us several times.
Indeed, Wanderers have managed just 35 goals in 26 games so far this season. That is the third lowest total of all the teams in the top half of League One - with only Walsall (33), Oxford United and Bradford City (both 34) managing to score less. The main problem seems to be away from the Macron, as we've managed just 13 goals in 12 away matches compared to a relatively free-flowing 22 goals in 14 home games.
The likes of Northampton Town (39 goals) and even Bury (43 goals) have scored more goals than Bolton so far this season. However, at least we aren't Oldham Athletic, who have notched up a pitiful 13 goals in their 26 league games, including just five goals from their 12 home games. They've also only conceded 11 goals in those home games, so life must have been rather dull at Boundary Park this season.
We've written about this ad nauseam in the past, but Wanderers are well overdue a striker that is capable of banging it into the onion bag.
Our top league goalscorer this season is Zach Clough who, with eight goals, is scoring a goal every 181 minutes. That ranks him as the joint 14th top scorer in the league which, for a team third in the table, is rather disappointing. Especially when you consider the majority of his goals are either direct free-kicks or from the penalty spot. Our second top scorer is Josh Vela with six league goals, which is a decent effort by the lad.
However, Clough and Vela lag well behind the likes of the league's leading goalscorer Billy Sharp, who's bagged 18 times for Sheffield United this season with a goal every 136 minutes, as well as contributing four assists. Scunthorpe United's Josh Morris, who I'm pretty sure is also a winger, is just one goal behind Sharp, scoring 17 times with a goal every 142 minutes, as well as an impressive nine assists.
Behind them Bury's James Vaughan and Matty Taylor both have 16 goals this season without a single assist between them, with Vaughan scoring an impressive every 108 minutes and Taylor bagging every 126 minutes.
So the question remains, why we are totally incapable of finding a striker that can score goals? Gary Madine is our top scoring striker, and he’s well behind Clough with just five goals in 22 league games - and no goal in the last five since his brace against Gillingham back in early December.
Although Madine truly lives up to his Goal Machine nickname when compared to Jamie Proctor, who has still failed to score a league goal in 20 appearances.
Am I being too harsh on our strikers? I'm not sure, but there's certainly an argument that while we're incapable of finding a goalscoring striker we're equally lacking a creative midfielder capable of unlocking a defence.
Wanderers don't have a player anywhere near the top assist makers in League One. Sheffield United also top this category, thanks to John Fleck's ten assists, closely followed on nine by Morris and Peterborough United's Marcus Maddison. Surprisingly, just one behind them on eight assists is former Bolton man Matty Taylor.
So how many assists does Bolton's most creative player have, seven? Er no. Six? Ermmm nope. Five?! Naaaah. Jay Spearing creeps in as our most creative entity with a measly four assists, which are mostly from him lumping free-kicks or corners into the box. Not even a single one of our mob pushes him close with three, but three other players do have two assists each, Clough, Madine and the crocked Mark Davies. Which is pretty pathetic.
Whether or not you regard assists as important or not (hears Chris Manning scream NO), I think there's definitely an argument for us lacking a creative player, and there's no arguing that we're crying out for a proper goalscorer. Oh Alfie, how we need you to come home. But at least our defence is awesome.