After 6 years and 4 months Bolton Wanderers returned to the Bet 365 Stadium, the scene of their Premier League relegation in 2012. It wasn’t the return we had hoped for with goals from Bruno Martins Indi and Tom Ince winning the match for Stoke City. They had a helping hand from referee Jeremy Simpson who disallowed a Josh Magennis header for a non-existent foul when the score was 1-0.
Despite the misfortune the performance was a far cry from the one that brought a victory against high-flying Derby County. Here is what we learned from Tuesday night:
More incompetent refereeing
Phil Parkinson was forthright with his criticism of referee Jeremy Simpson’s performance on Tuesday, especially towards his decision to disallow Magennis’ header for a supposed obstruction by Yanic Wildschut on goalkeeper Jack Butland. It is ironic that a foul on the ‘keeper prevented Wanderers from gaining a foothold in the game given that on our last visit to Stoke we were on the wrong end of a Chris Foy decision to allow Jonathan Walters to shove Adam Bogdan over the line. It is becoming an all too frequent occurrence that poor refereeing decisions are deciding games and while I am more than open to the argument that Bolton were not at their best in this game, a 1-1 score line at that stage could easily have changed the match given Stoke’s mental frailties of late. The FA must take a long hard look at its officiating standards or perhaps even consider the implementation of VAR to ensure that the football on display always takes precedence over refereeing.
Struggles to deal with pace
Our backline on Tuesday containing Olkowski, Hobbs, Wilson and Grounds was at times given the run-around by pacy customers such as Tom Ince, Benik Afobe and Saido Berahino. It has often been an issue for Wanderers that we don’t deal well with players like this and whilst it is impossible for our defenders to suddenly become quicker, it could be possible to tailor training towards combatting teams that use speed as their primary weapon. Better positioning from Jonathan Grounds could easily have helped him stop Ince from scoring the second goal, for example. We are aware of this flaw in our backline and we must try to rectify the issue if we are to be competitive.
Removing the Parky indoctrination
Parky often comes under fire for our “hoof-ball” tactics but my argument against the critics has always been that we cannot expect better given the lack of quality players we possess. Personally, I no longer think this is the case. On many occasions in this game and against Derby County our best attacks came not from second-balls after a hoof to Magennis, but from neat one-twos and incisive passing. Erhun Oztumer is more than capable of creating chances if given the ball to feet and the likes of Olkowski and Noone thrive when the ball is spread wide rather than hoofed aimlessly. We are capable of playing in a different and, perhaps, better way but too often fall back into a bad habit that we no longer need to employ to be successful. It should be a part of our armoury, yes, but only as a last resort. We have better players than we give ourselves credit for and this must be exploited whereas too often it is wasted.
The enigma of Yanic Wildschut
Yanic Wildschut is the kind of player who has you on the edge of your seat with his raw pace, silky skills and sheer unpredictability. When replacing the disappointing Will Buckley in the second half I recall him having 3/4 spells of extended possession and each time he had Stoke on the backfoot. He has more ability than probably any player in our squad save for Sammy Ameobi, but this is not utilised nearly enough. He makes things happen when in possession, but it appears as though his teammates rarely think about giving him the ball. He has flitted in and out of the team during his Wanderers career and perhaps this is the reason why they don’t think to pass to him. He has the tools to change matches for Wanderers, as proven against West Brom and Reading. We must focus our attention on getting the best out of him as it could be vital to our hopes this season.
Changes at the wrong time
I am a staunch Parky supporter but even I must concede that he helped us lose this game. At the time he decided to take off Noone and Magennis for Clayton Donaldson and Christian Doidge, Bolton were firmly on top. We had had the disallowed goal and were looking threatening with the two players removed playing key roles. The substitutions curtailed our progress and within minutes the game was taken away from us with Ince’s goal. I understand the need to prevent burnout, especially for two players in great form, but to take them off in that situation came across as a concession of defeat. It has often been an issue with Parky that he doesn’t utilise substitutions brilliantly, but this had improved this season. He reverted to his old ways at the Bet365 Stadium and a good opportunity to gain an away point was lost as a result.