Yes we were up against a Premier League side, but the manner in which we slumped to defeat and the way that we approached the game is pretty frustrating.
We’re Bolton Wanderers, four times winners of the FA Cup - only 11 existing teams have won it more times. Sixty years ago, Nat Lofthouse, our / the greatest player of all time, won our fourth and final FA Cup with that famous challenge on Harry Gregg. Yet on Saturday we didn’t look like a team that cared about that history.
Phil Parkinson used the cup game as an opportunity to give a few players a rest - namely Gary Madine - and give some of our fringe players a chance to shine. One of which, for some reason known only to Parky, was Aaron Wilbraham, who Lofthouse himself would be ashamed of. It’s safe to say he didn’t shine.
The 38-year-old still hasn’t scored a goal for Bolton, in 16 appearances. On the basis of Saturday’s performance, and THAT miss (below) that I think Lofthouse’s statue might have scored, I don’t think he ever will.
In fact, Wilbraham hasn’t scored a goal in almost a year since he bagged for Bristol City at Newcastle United on 25th February 2017. And he’s only scored 2 goals in his last 39 appearances in all competitions going all the way back to October 2016.
It’s fairly clear that Wilbraham doesn’t have what it takes to step up in place of Madine, but it’s also painfully obvious what we’ll get from him. He’s a big old bloke with no pace and, judging by Saturday, he’s incapable of finishing. So what was the point in starting him against Huddersfield? I’ll rephrase that, what’s the point of him being at the club?
Why not give youth a chance?
It feels like I’m repeating myself again and again, but surely this match was a chance to give promising youngsters an opportunity. The obvious option was Connor Hall who, when he was finally given a runout with just five minutes left, looked brighter, actually seemed to have a touch and looked interested in playing. A reminder: Hall has scored 14 goals in 14 games for Bolton’s under-23 side this season.
Hall also would have given us the option of pace up front and less of the hoof-ball, which is exactly what we needed against a pretty average looking Huddersfield side.
Wilbraham’s lack of pace and movement completely played into the hands of Michael Hefele, who’s barely played all season, and debutant Terence Kongolo, who is undoubtedly a decent player but was making his first appearance in England. Instead, their afternoon was made far too easy - is it too much to ask to have a player who even shows the slightest threat of getting in behind an opposition’s defence?
One positive out of the game was Derik Osede, who again put forward his case for a regular starting spot after being repeatedly overlooked. Surely he has better quality on the ball than Darren Pratley, who has in fairness been better than I expected this year, and should now be given an opportunity to prove it in the league given our captain’s injury absence.
I don’t mind that we lost to a Premier League side, I’m just disappointed that we didn’t try something a little bit different and didn’t give youngsters who would have been right up for the match their chance to shine. It just feels like an opportunity lost and we gave up our place in the FA Cup without a fight. Furthermore, the fact that only 7,000 Wanderers fans turned up to the Macron on Saturday says it all.
If Wilbraham is named on the bench for Saturday’s visit to Brentford it’s an absolute travesty. But you just know he will be. It’s all so predictable.