“I’ve entered the abyss. I’ve bought a house in the abyss. I’m getting my post forwarded to the abyss”, words of Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan, but with more performances like yesterday’s 3-0 submission at Derby County and Wanderers will be having their post forwarded to the abyss of League One.
The omens weren’t good even before kick-off, Bolton Wanderers have failed to win at Derby in 37 years and Pride Park was the ground in which Bolton’s relegation to League One was confirmed in 2016 with a 4-1 defeat. However, Sunderland’s recent 4-1 victory at Pride Park gave the Wanderers a crumb of comfort to cling to.
As suggested during the week, Parky shuffled his pack. Derik, Flanagan, Taylor, Buckley and Ameobi were replaced by Karacan, Little, Robinson, Wheater and Wilbraham, with Bolton reverting to a 3 5 2 formation with Robinson and Little as wing backs and Wilbraham partnering Le Fondre up front. There was precious little chance to observe what the game plan was, as within 3 minutes Wanderers were behind.
The tone was set by sloppy defending gifting Nugent an early chance which was well saved by Alnwick, but the respite was short lived as Alex Pearce had the leisure of time and space in the Bolton penalty box to nod home Joe Ledleys corner. The rest of the first half was played out in a strange almost training match like atmosphere, with Derby and their fans seeming to be happy to patiently wait for another goal in no fear of Bolton being able to hurt them. The lack of urgency from both sides resulted in few chances, the closest coming when Andi Weimann just couldn’t bring the ball under his spell from a clever lofted through ball from Ledley.
Derby didn’t have to wait long, as soon as they upped the tempo a static Wanderers defence simply couldn’t handle it. Some neat interplay (the likes of which Wanderers fans can but dream about) released Nugent in the right side of the penalty area, who’s shot was parried by Alnwick to Matej Vydra who gleefully tapped home his 20th of the season with no Wanderers defender in the same post code as him. There were precious few positives to take into half time, the defence looked shaky, the midfield passive and Wilbraham and Le Fondre looking like they had never met each other in their lives.
Parky rang the changes, Wilbraham and Burke were replaced by Ameobi and Noone as Bolton reverted to a 4 2 3 1 formation with Noone and Ameobi occupying the wide areas and Vela in behind Le Fondre… in theory. Noone and Ameobi at least looked to get on the ball and make things happen, along with Robinson and Little there looked like Bolton could at least threaten in the wide areas. However, on 54 minutes the centre of the park was once again the problem, as Tom Lawrence was left unchallenged to trot to the edge of the Wanderers box and unleash a powerful low drive which evaded Alnwick and nestle in the far corner. If anyone in the ground didn’t already know it, this was game over.
Derby dropped their game into an even lower gear, which at least allowed Bolton a peek into the game. Ameobi and Noone busied themselves in the wide areas, which resulted in Ameobi hitting the outside of the post. Beevers had two good efforts on goal from corners, with Scott Carson pulling off a couple of fine saves, particularly the second from a left footed volley. Wheater had an effort scrambled off the line late on, but realistically Derby never looked in any danger of losing their grip on the game.
To commandeer an over-used phrase, Bolton simply failed to lay a glove on Derby. There seemed to be no plan to try to get amongst Derby and disrupt their passing, nor any attacking strategy to exploit Derby’s defensive weaknesses. Despite the lack of quality in the Wanderers squad, they have never lacked for spirit, but the last few results seems to have ebbed the spirit out of some of the players, which is a huge worry. Yes Parky made changes but once again the Wilbraham experiment failed, I am aware that he’s an easy target but it’s such a disappointment seeing Parky try things that have already failed.
Parky clearly doesn’t seem to fancy Zach Clough, however with Bolton looking so devoid of attacking inspiration I feel that Clough must be given a chance so that Bolton may at least carry an attacking threat. A moment of magic can lift belief levels and give Bolton a chance to scramble away from danger. As poor as yesterday was, Bolton’s fate is still in their own hands, though Parky needs to draw upon every scrap of his much praised man management skills to lift the team for Tuesday night against an in-form Millwall. Another passive performance like yesterday could result in an ugly defeat and atmosphere inside the Macron on Tuesday night, over to you Phil…