After a recent slump, Phil Parkinson’s Bolton Wanderers side were desperate to get their promotion charge back on track.
In their way was a Charlton Athletic side which despite losing star man Ademola Lookman are on the way up under the new stewardship of former MK Dons manager Karl Robinson.
Bolton lined up with a predictable side with the notable inclusion of returned loanee Conor Wilkinson making the bench whilst Chris Taylor was omitted from the squad with the much-maligned winger linked heavily with a return to Oldham Athletic.
Charlton’s line-up included their own notable returned loanee as Tony Watt lined up for the Addicks after his most recent and largely unsuccessful loan at Hearts of Midlothian.
The game started in rather lively fashion with both teams looking to get on top of the other. Bolton were looking to get key man Zach Clough on the ball as frequently as possible whilst both Wanderers full backs looked keen to get further forward than perhaps they normally would with Andrew Taylor particularly looking to go beyond the Charlton defence.
There was a manic, frenzied feel to the game with James Henry moving across the pitch into the pockets of space and Charlton themselves looking to get forward quickly when the Whites’ surrendered possession. The first moment of real drama was to be the real defining moment of the game. With the ball knocked over the top and Josh Vela pouncing, Lewis Page brought down the Bolton number 10 and was shown a straight red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.
The decision seemed fair, despite Charlton’s understandable protests, and Charlton were down to ten men after only 11 minutes.
Things would go from bad to worse just moments later for the Addicks as Bolton talisman Zach Clough stepped up to delicately float his 9th goal of the season beyond the despairing Charlton stopper Declan Rudd. It was a moment of class from the young forward who undoubtedly will be the subject of interest of Championship sides over the next 48 hours.
The scene was now set for Bolton to convert their dominant position into a much revered home-win and they looked to attack. Zach Clough was presented with a golden chance to double Bolton’s lead but fired over from close range.
Bolton were made to pay for that miss shortly after as Charlton took advantage from a set piece deep out on the left as Patrick Bauer towered at the back post to head home at Ben Alnwick’s bottom corner. It was particularly disappointing to see Bolton, with their size and physicality concede such a cheap goal.
And just like that, Charlton were back in it.
For Bolton, everything all of sudden seemed to become difficult and The Trotters were working hard to create anything.
Space seemed to become far more expensive from Bolton and the best effort on goal came from a stinging drive from the otherwise poor Jay Spearing. Charlton were beginning to get a real grip on the game with former Celtic striker Tony Watt proving a real nuisance when targeting Wanderers’ right-back Lawrie Wilson. Jay Spearing and Tom Thorpe were losing the central midfield battle with Jake Forster-Caskey looking in control of the game.
Just as both sides seemed content on heading into half-time with the scores level, Charlton broke and took a surprise lead. The impressive Forster-Caskey slid in a ball for Wigan loanee Nathan Byrne to fire home and send Charlton manager Karl Robinson bouncing down the tunnel, buoyed by the efforts of his side.
Bolton manager Phil Parkinson was clearly concerned by what he had seen and made a change to his system. Central midfielder Tom Thorpe was withdrawn to be replaced by Max Clayton who was deployed out on the left as Bolton switched to a 4-4-2. Charlton were unsurprisingly unchanged.
The change of system appeared to hamstring Bolton as they struggled to take command of the game. Zach Clough and James Henry particularly looked lost as they both tried to distinguish their areas of control from each other whilst Max Clayton looked uncomfortable out on the left.
The biggest problem for Bolton though was that the withdrawal of Thorpe meant Jay Spearing was spending more time on the ball. Spearing was moving the ball far too slowly, allowing Charlton to continually reset their defence and making it more difficult for Bolton’s creative players to find space.
Spearing is a good defensive player but when he is deployed in a midfield pairing, rather than a trio, the pace of his play is exposed. I think it’s this aspect of his game that has stopped Jay reaching the higher levels, he’s essentially a five foot-odd centre back shoe-horned into a midfielder. As part of a three, he’s fine, commanding even, but as a two he struggles.
There were chances for Bolton although they were struggled to create clear-cut chances. James Henry fired wide and Zach Clough missed with a header.
Phil Parkinson could sense the game was slipping from him and things got a little desperate. Jamie Proctor and Conor Wilkinson were thrown into the pit and all of sudden Bolton had 5 strikers on the pitch as opposed to their usual 1.
It didn’t work simply and to be honest looked a bit pathetic and I felt with the lack of structure, Charlton were more likely to score again than Bolton snatch an equaliser.
That said, late on Bolton were handed a brilliant chance to level but the shot was snatched at by the returning Conor Wilkinson.
There would be no further action as Charlton commendably held on for an impressive away win, much to the delight of their travelling fans.
Bolton are in a slump and need to get out of quickly or it could be the play offs, or worse …