That’s right bitches, I’m back. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to attend a Bolton Wanderers game, and what a woeful game it was last night.
We started well, in all fairness - reverting back to the 4-2-3-1 system that’s served us so well this season; Chris Long in the lone striker role with Morais, Vela and Henry supporting behind him. Spearing and Derik anchored the midfield with Wabara, Wheater, Beevers and Taylor making up the back line. Mark Howard also made an appearance between the sticks, even after Saturday’s performance.
A great piece of attacking play saw us take the lead. Wabara dealt a ball down the right for Chris Long to chase, and if it wasn’t for Long’s tenacity, we wouldn’t have scored. He fought tooth and nail to keep it in play, crossing deep for Morais to pick up at the back post. Instead of shooting from an acute angle, Morais squared the ball to an unmarked Josh Vela and we were away. That was in the 6th minute.
Then, ladies and gents, things went tits up. Big time. We succumbed to absolute mountains of pressure for the next 70 minutes and, in all honesty, looked like the away team. Piss poor distribution from our back line and goalkeeper had a big part to play; how they can expect Chris Long to win the ball in the air and make things happen on the ground at the same time is beyond me. Mark Howard had the worst game I’ve seen him play for us - at one point in the first half he flapped so badly on the edge of his box, Bristol Rovers were left with an open goal but couldn’t convert. An injury to Jay Spearing also spelled disaster - he limped off at half time with what’s being reported as a medial ligament injury - which is six weeks on the sidelines, at least.
As the second half began, I couldn’t help thinking we were going to lose. The truth is that we never even looked like scoring, and the players we have to call upon didn’t exactly inspire confidence either. The inevitable happened in the 72nd minute when our 1,862nd defensive mistake allowed the visitors in behind to cooly level the score. I spent the rest of the game arguing with people around me about how shit Wabara (and the rest of our back line of late) is, but the only other point of note is the Chris Long sending off. Now, fans will moan about his second yellow, but the referee was right to book him for having a pop at the linesman. His first yellow card, however, was absolutely pathetic and in no way a booking; he won the ball, fair and square. Anyway, what’s done is done.
Last night’s game really worried me, ladies and gents. I haven’t seen us play for almost a month but from what I saw last night, it doesn’t inspire me. At all. Phil Parkinson’s tactics are poor and we’ve been found out. We’re absolutely devoid of ideas and when the going gets tough, we don’t know what to do. Our 4-2-3-1 system revolves so heavily around a player like Gary Madine (what a shitbag he is, by the way) that when he isn’t available or sinking shots in the pubs and clubs of Bolton, we completely capitulate going forward. The intensity and drive of our players is also a concern - I can only name a handful that actually look up for it.
I thought our signings in January would make us better, when in actual fact, including injuries, they’ve made us worse. The rock solid back four we had at the beginning of the season now look shaky and weak and our midfield look like schoolboys running around after adults. We've got a player like Adam Le Fondre - proven goalscorer - sitting on the bench because Phil Parkinson is too stubborn (or blind) to change the system to include him. We’ve got the players to score goals, they’re just not being used in the right way.
On last night’s evidence, I worry for Bolton Wanderers. I worry for our fans as we inevitably slide further and further down the table. I worry for the club as a whole as we scrape into the play offs, only to be smashed 15-0 away to Fleetwood in the semi-final first leg.
Something needs to change, and fast.