Running live feeds on recent Bolton Wanderers matches has been a task about as lonely as that ‘enjoyed’ by lone frontman Josh Magennis. The common denominators, for me, are a severe lack of creativity - which sounds oddly familiar - and, as a result, a lack of attacking threat on our opponents’ goals.
During the last few minutes of Wednesday night’s utterly painful 3-0 home defeat to Nottingham Forest - a side, remember, that hadn’t won at Bolton since 1991 - I went through our recent home games and counted up the shots we’d had on target. Safe to say, it doesn’t make for pretty reading.
The fairly respectable totals of four shots on target against both Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City count for nearly half our total all season. We’ve managed just 17 shots on target in six home games - which is possibly the biggest concern of a generally worrying start to the campaign.
A season of shot shyness
The opening day win at West Brom was, let’s face it, a fluke. We only had four shots on target, but that represents the joint highest total amassed in any game all season.
In our 14 league games we’ve only managed to reach double figures in total shots six times, one of which, dubiously, was the Forest match (10 shots, apparently). The season low was the meagre six shots at Stoke City and just seven at home to Bristol City and in the trips to Middlesbrough and Ipswich Town.
The most we’ve managed was at Preston, where we fought back from two down to draw 2-2, racking up 14 shots and a season-high seven on target in the process.
In the 13 other league matches, we’ve managed just 31 shots on target - that’s just 2.4 per game. That includes managing zero shots on target in a trip to bottom of the league Ipswich, just one at an out of form Stoke, one against Forest, and just two in the 1-0 home win over Derby County and the home draw with Bristol City - of which we scored both - and defeats against Sheffield United, QPR and Middlesbrough.
In total, we’ve had 17 shots on target from six home games, and 21 in seven away games. As a result, only Rotherham United have scored less than our 11 goals (they have 10), which is level with bottom two sides Hull City - who we face at home tomorrow - and Ipswich.
It’s hardly surprising that we’re not scoring many goals, because we’re simply not creating opportunities and, when we do, we’re hardly ever testing the opposition goalkeeper. Only Ipswich have had less shots on target than us this season (they’ve had 36).
Conceding chances relatively at will
That lack of attacking spark is complemented by conceding shots on our own goal. Interestingly, we faced more shots in the opening day win at West Brom than any other game this season, as the hosts rattled in 20, of which three were on target. While we allowed 19 at Middlesbrough, and 17 shots and six on target in both the home games against Birmingham (who somehow scored none) and Sheffield United (who converted half of those shots on target).
However, we allow an average of 4.14 shots on target per game, which actually puts us mid-table, with nine teams having conceded more. But the game against Forest saw them rack up eight shots on target - the most we’ve seen all season - which suggests a concerning trend.
We probably have Ben Alnwick to thank for our defensive record not looking too bad, with 19 goals conceded in 14 games. Which I think isn’t bad. We’ve conceded less than Aston Villa, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday and fourth-placed West Brom and, in fact, only eight teams in the league have conceded less goals than Bolton.
That said, the comparison between shots faced and shots taken sums up the problem succinctly. In 14 league games, Bolton have had 131 shots, of which 38 have hit the target - that’s 29% of shots on target.
Conversely, in those games we’ve faced 204 shots, of which 59 have been on target - which, strangely, is also 29% of shots hitting the target.
But, that means we’re facing 55% more shots than we’re having, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to tell you that that’s a serious problem.
So what can change?
Well, not lining up with a midfield of Jason Lowe, Joe Williams and Josh Vela would be a good start. Those three combined have the creativity of a brick wall.
The obvious choice would be to play Erhun Oztumer in behind Magennis, or possibly in behind two strikers if we were to switch to three at the back. But on the basis of the Blackburn game alone I can fully appreciate why Phil Parkinson is reluctant to do that - he looked well short (forgive the pun) of being a Championship midfielder.
I’m not convinced a three man defence is the answer but on paper, played right, it could help us create more chances. Furthermore, our wide players have proven time and again that they are incapable of creating opportunities - Craig Noone was brighter when he switched to the left wing against Forest, but all too often his last ball is woeful, and the performance of Yanic Wildschut in that game bordered on disgraceful. Meanwhile, Magennis is isolated far too often, so why not switch it up.
Personally, I’d like to see us go 3-5-2 with Mark Beevers returning alongside David Wheater and Jack Hobbs, then Nathan Dyer and Pawel Olkowski (if fit) providing wing-back width, Williams and Vela or Gary O’Neil (if fit) in midfield, then Oztumer in behind Magennis and Doidge - with Donaldson to provide support off the bench.
The pressure is on Parky to find the answers to this conundrum, and do so quickly. Because tomorrow’s game against Hull is now a must-win match - regardless of what Ken Anderson said in yesterday’s column. If we lose, we could potentially be just three points above the relegation zone with one win in 11 matches - which makes sitting in third place in August feel like a lifetime ago.