Next month marks a quarter of a century since the release of Bill Murray’s classic film Groundhog Day - I know, 25 years makes me feel old too. For those of a certain age, Murray’s character finds himself reliving the same day again and again, which leads to him examining his life choices and decisions.
Much like that character, it seems like Groundhog Day all over again for Bolton Wanderers fans enduring their side’s inability to score goals let alone win matches. Having been six points clear of relegation going into the international break last month, Wanderers have embarked on a dire run of form and goalscoring that leaves them just two points clear of Barnsley, who have a game in hand and far superior goal difference ahead of the two sides going head-to-head at Oakwell tomorrow.
Bolton go into this huge game on a streak of four successive defeats, having not even scored a goal in their last three matches. This draws obvious comparisons with the dire opening to Wanderers’ season, which saw fans kept waiting until October for a first league victory.
So where’s it all gone wrong yet again? Well, how long is a piece of string, but for me the key problem comes down to a severe lack of presence in attack, not to mention not having an ounce of creativity in the side.
The Madine Factor
During Bolton’s televised clash against Bristol City back in February, Sky Sports showed a fascinating list of stats that drilled home former striker Gary Madine’s importance to the side. Shockingly, Madine topped EVERY attacking statistic at the club. Goals, assists, chances created, shots, passes, touches, free-kicks won. You name it, Madine was our leading force in it.
The striker’s importance to the side has only been made more undeniable by his departure. Since Madine left the club on January transfer deadline day, Bolton have been limp and impotent, scoring just eight goals in the process of winning three of their 14 matches - all by a 1-0 scoreline.
Our only realistic starting striker Adam Le Fondre tries hard and has popped up with three goals in that time, including a vital winner over Aston Villa. He’s been denied service - as his goal return of 5 goals in 34 appearances all season alludes to - by an ‘attacking’ midfield support that also don’t contribute anywhere enough themselves.
Sammy Ameobi has scored one goal since the end of October, and not scored in his last 12 appearances. Josh Vela is supposedly the lead central support to Le Fondre, yet he’s scored one goal all season and not hit the back of the net since 23 December - the last time Bolton scored more than one goal in any match, incidentally - and is now 16 appearances without scoring. While his fellow academy product Zach Clough has struggled to even get a game upon his return to the club and scored once in eight games during his loan spell.
Will Buckley has only scored twice in 23 matches this season, one of which was a consolation in the 5-1 mauling at Wolves, and is also without a goal in 2018 having not scored in his last 11 appearances - missing a series of clear goalscoring opportunities in recent games. While his replacement against Millwall in midweek, Craig Noone, has still yet to score a goal for Bolton in 22 appearances.
Beyond that, Filipe Morais, while he has often been deployed in more defensive roles, has one goal from 33 appearances, which came on the second weekend of the season at Millwall. Our other strikers have barely threatened opposing defences, with Aaron Wilbraham enjoying a solitary goal in 25 appearances and loanee Tyler Walker not scoring in his five appearances, despite scoring four goals for Nottingham Forest - a tally that would make him our current second top scorer.
In total, the players currently at the club have a paltry 21 league goals between them all season, compared to Madine’s 10 when he left the club three months ago.
Change is needed
It’s clear that whatever Phil Parkinson does with our attack, it’s not working. Le Fondre, as hard as he tries, is clearly not a lone striker, especially at Championship level. Our attackers are massively void of confidence and don’t look like even threatening to score a goal.
Conversely, youngster Connor Hall has bagged 20 goals for our Under-23s side and would, you’d expect, be full of confidence as a result. He was left out of the youth side’s visit to Charlton last week, which they subsequently lost, only to bizarrely not be named in a Bolton squad that didn’t include a striker on the substitutes’ bench.
I don’t know what it is about Bolton, but we always seem so reluctant to give youth a chance compared to other teams. The more baffling thing is that when we have done it in the past, it’s been a success. Just look at Rob Holding and Zach Clough as very recent examples of just that.
Surely it’s time for Hall to be given a chance to prove what he’s made of at first-team level?
Beyond that, Wanderers signed former Nigeria international Chinedu Obasi on a free transfer back on 3 March, yet he’s not been anywhere the first-team squad and didn’t even play for the Under-23s side last week.
Until Parkinson changes things up I can’t see us scoring, let alone getting the victories we require to drag ourselves out of trouble.