Oh flippin’ heck, where do I start? Ok I think it’s fair to say, if someone asked me to describe ‘total football’ I would have to say it’s the complete opposite to what I had witnessed at Rotherham on Saturday. The first half in particular was delightfully unspectacular as yet again Bolton failed to gather any sort of momentum. At least in the second half we showed some improvement and had a few attempts on target.
In the end, to the delight and astonishment of the 2,000 travelling fans, Christian Doidge’s first goal for the Wanderers ensured the Whites left the New York, New York stadium with a valuable point when all the while it looked as though we would come away empty handed.
All in all, it was pretty dire and not all that pretty, but what have we gleaned from our trip to South Yorkshire? Here are my five things:
1. I’d take finishing 18th in the league right now
All things being equal, in the end, the table doesn’t lie. Forget that good start we had and the social media tripe from the ‘towers’ talking about play off places, this is reality. Before a ball was kicked we were 2nd favourites for relegation and to be fair, we probably still are. We currently lie 18th in the table and I reckon Parky would have taken it at 13 games in.
Today we picked up a draw, away from home, against a team who will also be frolicking in the relegation dog fight. Their fans expected to beat us today, so for me we need to appreciate just where we are at the moment – a bottom half, Championship side, scrapping for every point. We’re not going to blow teams away and expecting to play worldy football is just unrealistic.
Our aim this year should be to improve on last year’s position. Yes I’d love us to finish higher than 18th and if we do, fantastic, but a point at Rotherham, considering the way we played, is a decent result in the end. That’s not being negative, that’s telling it like it is.
There are teams in the Championship we would expect to do better against of course, such as Rotherham, Ipswich, Preston or Reading, all of whom are below us in the table, Against those teams, who we have all played away from home, we remain unbeaten with one win and three draws,
2. Clayton Donaldson still has something to offer in the Championship
I was a tad surprised when he was named in the starting line up but the Don certainly took his opportunity superbly well, showing he has a big role to play this season. An impressive work rate from start to finish, the former Birmingham man never stopped running for 90 odd minutes, which was a remarkable effort.
He’s had to bide his time after picking up an injury in pre season and the arrival of Josh Magennis has limited Clayton’s minutes on the pitch, but he looked the part this afternoon in his more natural position.
For me, Clayton is a centre forward, who can pressure the centre halves, bring others in to play, exactly like he did for our goal, and work hard for the team up the pitch.
I think when Parky played him out wide, it was because he wanted him in the team, but didn’t want to break away from the 4-5-1 formation. Now we look to be going with a back three, it may present more opportunities and I would love to see him get on the score sheet to really kick start his season. He certainly needs more game time based on this MOTM performance.
3. At least we’re trying new things
The success of the predictable 4-5-1 formation has faltered dramatically over the last few weeks and, for what seems like forever, fans have been asking for a more offensive line up.
Parky made 5 changes to his starting XI, adopting a 3-5-2 approach, and I think it’s the first time we have started a game this season with two natural strikers (excluding Ozzie....) and I think it’s a step in the right direction. With Magennis, Donaldson and Doidge fighting for two starting spots, that seems a decent proposition.
So at least we are moving away from something that hadn’t been working and trying different ideas. Admittedly, we lacked any sort of attacking threat in the first half, again failing to get a shot on target, and it may take time to bed in. but we need to grind out results, try different options and get the best out of the players that we have available.
There’s still a lot to work on, but with happy go lucky Lloyd getting fitter down the left and with Ozzie, Sammy and Stephen Ireland waiting in the wings, I think we will eventually have a little more creativity and the guile to break teams down. That said, we do need to take our chances, particularly when playing teams below us, even more so as chances are at a premium right now. Bolton have had the fewest shots at goal than any other Championship side as it stands.and Rotherham had enough chances to be out of sight.
4. The spirit in the dressing room is still high
To accentuate missing the penalty, Rotherham scored from a soft free kick which lifted the home fans and in turn lifted Rotherham, who then went on to have their best spell of the game. But thankfully, the boys kept going and got the equaliser after good work by Clayton and a striker’s finish in to the corner by Chris Doidge for his first Wanderers goal. I’m delighted for him and loved the celebration.
Despite a few grumblings on the terraces, one thing that always comes out in the interviews with the players is the togetherness and great team spirit in the dressing room. All the new recruits seemed to have settled in well and Parky and his backroom staff have a great rapport with the players. That spirit has to remain and we’ll need everyone pulling in the right direction, including the fans, if we are to get the required points on the board.
5. This time next week we’ll be a third of the way through the season
After picking up 10 points from the first five games of the season, we followed that by earning just 6 points from the next 8 fixtures. It’s been a real mixed bag of results so far this season; beating West Brom and Derby but losing to QPR and Blackburn along the way. From one week to the next I have no idea what type of performance we will put in and it’s playing merry hell with my betting slip.
On a more positive note, in comparison to last years tally, we are still 10 points better off at this stage of the season so we have made steady progress. There is a long way to go and we have an opportunity to bring in some fresh faces in January, but a win is very much needed to halt the slide.
Next up for Bolton are two home games against Forest in midweek and Hull City next Saturday. Rumour has it we’re drafting in someone called A. Wilbraham for the Forest game but as they have something to play for this time round, I think it will be a much tougher ask. Hull, on the other hand, are currently languishing in the relegation places so it has to be a game we are looking to win.
After writing this article I find myself thinking ‘so what did the result at Rotherham tell us?’ and you know what, I have no bloody clue, and it didn’t feel too good but I shall remain optimistic of sunnier days ahead. Up the jolly old Super Whites.