Defences came out on top as Bolton and Blackpool played out a goalless Monday night draw at the UNIBOL in a game where Wanderers displayed their new, and fairly hideous, kit for the first time. After such horrendous drubbings at the start of the season, Keith Hill has made it his priority to ensure Bolton’s defence is as solid as can be and this aspect of the performance will have pleased him no end. However, the game was blighted by a suspected broken collarbone injury suffered by Wanderers’ influential captain Liam Bridcutt which may see him out of action for some time.
Keith Hill made two changes from our last outing away to Rochdale in the “Mickey Mouse” Cup with Daryl Murphy and Jack Hobbs replacing Will Buckley and Sonny Graham respectively. Buckley was absent from the squad altogether as were James Weir and Luke Murphy with Graham adding to a very youthful bench which also contained new signing Joe Dodoo as striking backup.
Former Wanderers Liam Feeney and Jay Spearing were earmarked by the hapless Sky TV crew as potential dangermen for the Seasiders, but it was tall target-man Armand Gnanduillet who looked to have the biggest impact, though mostly through clumsy fouls in all areas of the pitch. This tendency would have serious consequences for Wanderers later in the half.
As has become the norm these days, Bolton started brightly with Thibaud Verlinden seeing a shot blocked after a knock-down by Murphy whilst Hobbs had a tame header saved by Jak Alnwick, brother of Ben, in the Tangerine net.
However, soon after Feeney almost lived up to his pre-match billing as September’s player of the month as he rattled the crossbar after a cross-cum-shot from Callum Guy eluded everyone in the penalty area to find the winger at the far post. He inexplicably failed to score, and the ball cannoned away off the bar for a throw-in; a real let off for the home side.
Blackpool’s pressure continued moments later when a ricochet off Adam Chicksen fell kindly to Matty Virtue. His thunderous strike would surely have found the net had Hobbs not read the situation perfectly to block well. Despite these near misses, one of the most clear-cut chances would soon fall to Wanderers.
Having fed off something even less than scraps until this point, Murphy was set free after a clever run and pass from Verlinden. The striker shot first time powerfully but straight at Alnwick to make a comfortable save. It was the kind of chance you feel the Irishman would score once fully fit and firing.
The key moment of the game, however, wasn’t a chance nor a piece of skill, but an innocuous tangle between Gnanduillet and Bridcutt on the edge of the Bolton box. The clumsy forward landed awkwardly on the Scottish midfielder’s shoulder and, according to post match reports, may well have caused a collarbone fracture. Bridcutt had not had his best game to this point, but his desire to always get on the ball and his reading of the game make him one of the best midfielders in this division. We hope that it is not as serious as first feared.
Graham came on to replace him and immediately looked the part, foraying forward with Jason Lowe ably stepping into the holding role vacated by Bridcutt. The other central midfielder of the trio, Ali Crawford, would have the next big chance. Having scored a fabulous free-kick against Rochdale in the week, he tried his luck from a similar distance here. The ball zipped viciously towards goal and had Alnwick not scrambled across to tip it round the post, it may well have found the bottom corner. Crawford is starting to look a real dead-ball specialist.
The half ended with Verlinden and Ben Heneghan seeing yellow cards as the game turned scrappy. It would be a sign of things to come for the following period as Wanderers, as has become expected in recent weeks, started to tire somewhat.
Dennis Politic was withdrawn on 54 minutes for Dodoo to make his debut with commentator Rob Palmer adding the caveat that besides Blackpool he had scored on debut for every other club he had played for. No pressure, son! He almost did just that with two shots in the space of 10 seconds that went close, one stinging Alnwick’s palms the other whistling past the far post. This coupled with a good run back to defend a James Husband cross late on added up to decent first appearance for the former Leicester City product.
Murphy, his strike partner, had a long battle with both Heneghan and Curtis Tilt all game, forcing both central defenders to make last ditch headers to deny him from opening his Wanderers account. The old war horse may be just that, but his movement and positioning makes defenders anxious and will lead to goals if he stays fit.
The game drew to a conclusion with little incident bar some shots from range from the away side, one from the poor Gnanduillet that comfortably ended up in the second tier. Credit for this must go to both sets of defenders who all played superbly, thought the much maligned Yoan Zouma deserves great credit for his performance, one which contained towering headers, cultured long passing and sensible decision-making. Hill had called on his “young Adonis” to add maturity to his game and the Frenchman delivered.
Wanderers are now 17 games without a win and though it is impressive to see us defend so well, questions have to be asked of our attacking players as to why they seem to down tools after 65 minutes. Verlinden and Politic will have better games but this was one that they should have taken by the scruff. Rochdale in two weeks is now a 100% must-win match, let’s hope Hill has a fit enough squad capable of doing it.