When your best chance of a football match falls to your goalkeeper who’s piled forward for a corner in injury time, you know that something has gone badly wrong. In losing 1-0 at Brentford, Bolton Wanderers put in the kind of performance that their tally of 18 points and 15 goals at the mid-way point of The Championship season should have you expecting.
Bolton once again failed to force the opposition goalkeeper into a save and, realistically, didn’t look like scoring against a Brentford side that hadn’t won in six matches, had won just one of their previous 10, and conceded three goals inside the first half hour of their previous home game. It once again proved the fact that if you’re in a bad run of form and desperately need a win, then playing Bolton Wanderers is the perfect tonic.
Bolton team news
Phil Parkinson made three changes to the side that lost at home to Leeds United without mustering a shot on target. They lined up in an odd looking 4-4-2 formation with Marc Wilson stepping into a midfield role - in place of Joe Williams, who wasn’t even in the squad - while Gary O’Neil took up a place on the right of the midfield, and Sammy Ameobi starting up front alongside Christian Doidge.
The home side began the game on the front foot, with the dangerous looking New Zealand striker Neal Maupay shooting wide with the first opportunity, then Ollie Watkins volleying wide from a free-kick.
Wanderers gradually grew into the game but struggled to create opportunities, with our first real half chance falling to Wilson, who swung a left foot at the ball from 30 yards and shanked it horribly wide. But Brentford continued to dominate possession and were cutting through the Bolton defence with ease, just lacking a decent final ball.
Bolton finally woke up about half an hour into the game, and their best move of the match almost led to a goal. A nice bit of play between Andrew Taylor, Ameobi and Will Buckley saw the latter play a low pass back to O’Neil on the edge of the box, who saw his shot blocked over the bar.
Brentford forced Ben Alnwick into a couple of saves, then Bolton were offered a very promising opportunity with a central free-kick 25 yards out. Finally there was something for the boisterous travelling support to get excited about, but that bubble was burst as Ameobi stepped up and spooned a shot into the top tier of the stand. It was an effort that epitomised the painful lack of quality in the side.
Wanderers ended the second half on top with two good moves, one of which created a great opportunity for Pawel Olkowski but the full-back’s effort lacked composure and he fired well over the bar. So the sides went in at 0-0 with Brentford having dominated, but with a bit of promise on the break for Bolton.
However, that promise well and truly forgotten as Brentford came out and reasserted their dominance after the break, yet the final ball was still lacking. That was until the 62nd minute.
Bolton had a free-kick down the left-hand side, but rather than knocking a ball into the box they contrived to pass the ball backwards and backwards all the way back to Alnwick, who skewed a clearance out of play. Brentford went on the attack, were afforded far too much space on the edge of the box, knocked a ball into Maupay, who controlled the ball well and smashed a left-footed shot into the top corner. It was a brilliant finish from the best player on the pitch, but Wanderers’ defending left a lot to be desired.
Parky switched things up by bringing Craig Noone on for Olkowski, which strangely saw Jason Lowe switch to right-back and O’Neil moving into midfield with Wilson, then brought Magennis on for Buckley, which saw Ameobi move wide. But Wanderers were still struggling to create anything so Clayton Donaldson replaced Doidge, who had a thankless task up front with zero opportunities and a total lack of delivery into him.
Bolton pushed for an equaliser late on, and probably should have found one. A nice move down the right saw Noone get past his full-back, cut inside and somehow put the ball wide - from where I was standing at the far end, it looked like he should have done much better with the opportunity.
Then Ameobi, now deployed in his actual wide position, put in a lung-busting run down the left and won a corner. Alnwick ran forwards to support the attack and almost got his head onto the delivery. The ball came back into the box, Alnwick got onto the end of it and sent a looping header just wide of the far post - but quite how Ameobi didn’t react to the looping ball and nod it in is beyond me.
Wanderers didn’t have what it took to find an equaliser and Brentford strolled to a 1-0 win without having to get out of second gear.
Tough times at Bolton
This was the first time I’d seen Bolton play live in the flesh this season, and it was easy to see the team’s shortcomings. What Josh Vela was thinking as an unused substitute watching Marc Wilson and Gary O’Neil get 90 minutes in the Bolton midfield I would love to know - and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him sold next month.
The team is totally devoid of creativity, and there’s no-one in the heart of the midfield who can pass the ball. Doidge wasn’t given the ball into his feet, Buckley very rarely looked to go past his full-back and looks well short of Championship quality, and Ameobi was played out of position.
I can’t fault the players for effort yesterday, the sad fact is that we are just not good enough and it’s really difficult to see how Parky can turn things around. This latest defeat means Bolton have won just two of their last 19 league games, which we’re reliably informed equals the club’s worst ever run of form.
We’ve also failed to score a goal in seven of our last 11 matches, 11 of the last 16 matches and, even more concerning, not found the net in 31 of our last 65 matches. Furthermore, we haven’t scored in six of our last nine away games, and 19 of the last 34 away games.
As a result, we have three strikers that can’t buy a goal and have failed to score in their last 57 matches combined. Donaldson hasn’t scored in his last 29 appearances, Doidge has no goal in nine since scoring at Rotherham over two months ago, and Magennis has no goal in 17 games since scoring four in his first eight appearances for the club.
It’s easy to say Parky has to change things, but the simple fact is that he has no choice because it’s just not working. With Rotherham up next on Boxing Day why not play Magennis and Doidge up front, move Ameobi wide and play more direct. There’s no-one in midfield anyway so we may as well bypass it.
Either way, the Rotherham game is huge to any faint hopes we have of Championship survival this season.