Five things we learned from Bolton’s recent away draw at fellow strugglers Barnsley...
1. Three at the back does not work in this division
How many times have we seen this same scenario play out this year? Yet we keep coming back with the same tactics, the same strategy and teams know what we are going to do; we like to kick it long and we will always revert to that when placed under any amount of pressure. While this formation worked so well for us in League One, that success hasn’t carried over and you’d have thought that Parky would have realised this by this point, especially now that we don’t have Big Gary up top and thus no out ball (Wilbraham doesn’t count). We also don’t have the pace in our back 3, with the players we’ve got currently, to cope with the speed and quality of most teams in the Championship. Teams know that our plan is to let them have the ball and focus on game management, while we try to nick a goal from a set piece or the odd counter attack. It is too easy for teams to play patiently, waiting for that chance to get Wheats and Beevers on the turn and then they’re in behind us and we’re left relying on Alnwick to save us. This continues no matter how many CBs or CDMs we try to shoehorn into the team, often at the expense of creativity leaving us short when we actually try to mount an attack.
2. 4-4-2 does
If recent weeks have shown us anything it is that when we switch to four at the back we improve immeasurably. Unfortunately we often make this switch when we are 1-0 with about thirty minutes to go with little time left to actually impact the game. I am sure that Parkinson’s ideal result is a 1-0 win, he wants to nick a goal early doors and then sit back and frustrate for the rest of the match. The actual frustrating thing is that we can play attractive football and now we’re without the infamous big man up top we need to change our style and start being braver overall. Saturday should be a lesson for us going forward, especially for the upcoming games against Burton and Forest. If we take the game to these teams early doors then we’re good enough to beat them.
3. Phil Parkinson can be reactive but needs to make his mind up
Our team selections are all over the place, players starting when they should probably find themselves on the bench and vice versa, Dervite for Beevers anyone? (didn’t think id ever say that!) And who are our starting full backs? All these constant minor adjustments to the formation show that Parkinson still doesn’t know his best team and regardless of how we’re set up we persist with the same tactic of lumping it long to 5’9’’ Adam Le Fondre (who does work hard, bless him). One major criticism I’ve held of Parkinson for a while now is that he is too slow to react in a game and that his substitutions, when eventually made, aren’t good enough. On Saturday he threw a bit more caution to the wind, realising his early mistake with the team selection by taking off Burke at half time for Buckley and then bringing on Noone for Little later on. However, if we were 1-0 up at that point we might not have seen either of those two and would have persisted with sitting deep until we conceded a soft goal.
4. A game is not over at half time
I both love and despise the BWFC Twitter hashtag. It can be full of positivity and great debate or it can be full of what I think are the most bipolar fans on the planet, and halftime against Burnley was a fine example of the latter. #parkyout #we’regoingdown, based on what I read most of our fanbase was plotting League One away days for next year. I can’t blame them really, our recent performances don’t exactly set the best precedence for a late comeback but at 1-0 down with 45 minutes to go we aren’t ever out of it. The fact that we actually managed to turn it around, I mean even I struggled to see that one coming, but the fact that we did, shows that we aren’t (always) down and out and that anything can happen, even to Bolton Wanderers.
5. Wanderers will never make it easy for themselves
Annndd that brings me to my next point. Now while this isn’t exactly something new, we all know how liable Bolton are to mess things up. Because of that I think that our fanbase is quick to write us off in situations like, 0-1 down away from home to a side directly below us, simply because we always seem to put ourselves in these bloody situations. After two great results at home to Bristol and Aston Villa, it looked all the world like we were about to actually stay up. Then we go and lose four games on the bounce, including that shocking performance at home to Birmingham and all of a sudden we’re right back in it. While the season isn’t over yet and this draw has stopped the recent rot, you just know that it’s probably going to go down to the wire.