I’ve missed quite a few games recently thanks to work/life commitments so Saturday was a bit of a reintroduction to our team. Whilst we aren’t great away from home, I always tend to enjoy away games. Good banter with mates over a few prematch beers and then being part of a vocal following where, in this case, 600 Bolton fans out-sung the locals, despite being outnumbered ten to one. All great stuff despite another defeat. Anyhow, onto my five things.
1. Limited options means high risks.
As Hill tries to rustle up a winning formula with pretty much the same limited pool of 14 or 15 senior players, he’s having to take more and more risks. Today he tried a fluid 5-3-2 come 3-5-2 depending on whether we were defending or on the attack. A number of players were out of position in unfamiliar roles and I feared the worst. In the first half the Posh players rampaged down our wings and but for the fact that some of our penalty box water filled wellies style defending was matched by similar clown shoes for boots striking from the Peterborough forwards, the superb Ivan Toney aside that is, Bolton rode their luck. On other days we would have been 4-0 down once the referees halftime whistle was finally blown. Emmanuel & Chicksen aren’t familiar with playing as wingbacks and had a really difficult time of it until the second half substitutions enabled a change to a 4-4-2 formation. With both Dodoo and Darcy being pulled out wide to help our exposed flanks, Daryl Murphy was left stranded as a forlorn figure up front. It wasn’t all negatives though. Bridcutt, Earl and Luke Murphy (once he’d got rid of the ring rust) did well in the new formation. Once Verlinden came on, whilst he didn’t have his best game, his ability to widen the field of play, coupled with the change in formation, allowed Dodoo to really start to make an impact going forward. Don’t think Bolton have the players for a 3-5-2 and hopefully this formation is canned until we do.
In the second half, particularly after that introduction of our two subs allowing a change in formation, Bolton definitely shaded it against this promotion chasing Peterborough team. I’m not going to lie and I have to say that until recently I hadn’t fully taken to Hill. I didn’t liked his calling out individual players earlier in the season and he had come across on occasion as a bit of a gobshite to me. But... This bloke has got balls to try something new and if it doesn’t work, then change it around during a match rather than leaving it to the following week. I like the fact that his last minute signings, when not injured, have mostly been hits rather than misses. I also like the fact that he’s up for the challenge, he’s positive, not sulking with a woe is me attitude and he’s giving everybody a chance. Many decisions are forced on him due to the circumstances he’s managing under, particularly that never ending long injury list. Could you see Parky consistently giving our scholars a shot or trying something different after a heavy away defeat or after a run of bad results? Not me. So credit to Keith Hill for giving it a real go and trying to get something against a good Peterborough side. Main credit on Saturday was for changing the formation when plan A wasn’t working.
Didn’t have his best game when he came on in the second half it has to be said. But the difference his arrival made to the rest of the team was obvious to see. It allowed a change in formation to a more effective 4-4-2 & that added breadth given by two wingers caused Peterborough real problems. We’re told that Hill sees Verlinden as more effective when used as an impact player. Possibly a fair point when you have other players of similar quality starting games. However, it seems to me that that is not currently the case, thanks to that bloody injury list. Verlinden is a quality player and needs to be starting. So let’s make the most of him before his possibly permanent return to Stoke in the New Year. Having said that, if anyone can entice Stoke to send Thibaut back to Bolton once they’ve had a quick mid season look at him, then that’s Hill.
3. Senior playing squad numbers.
Pretty much since Hills transfer window player signings frenzy, the pool of senior players available to him to compete in this league has not been big enough. I doubt very much that Hill or the club in general expected a senior squad injury list to continually average around 8 to 9 players being out. We are not going to stay up when our manager has only 14 or so seniors to pick from. Whilst injuries are part and parcel of a competitive footballing season, even for our embargo limited 23 man squad, you’d still expect 19 to 20 players to be available most weeks. Somehow, Hill has to work some magic to achieve that target once the January transfer window opens. Releasing players either permanently or on loan to make room is probably the easier task. How he will get replacements in is the difficult bit. The 5 players loaned in will all need to be quality Bridcutt/Verlinden signings. We may need to take up that full quota of 8 loan signings even if only 5 are allowed on the field at any one time. Hopefully we can entice some out of favour players into ripping up their current club contracts and sign for us. That will obviously be a very difficult task if we are relegation certainties. The January window seems to be a month or so too late for us if I’m being honest. But Hill isn’t one for giving up so that first week or so in January will be critical to him. No last minute transfers this time round.
4. Seriously shite officiating.
What a joke they were. We’ve all seen referees and linesmen have bad games and that gets more regular as you go down the leagues. But this was the first full on meltdown I’ve seen since the ‘Barry Knight’ affair back in 2000. Why Luke Murphy was booked just 15 minutes in I have no idea. Blatant handballs being missed, so much so that one Bolton player (I forget who) took the piss by slapping the ball into safety after being fouled. Hilariously the ref missed two bang on yellow card offences right in front of him. One it has to be said was by Earl, who’s full on push into the back of a Posh player was about as blatant as it’s possible to get.
We had it all; offsides that weren’t offside and even throw ins given when the ball hadn’t gone out if play. In the latter case, Verlinden was a good foot inside the line when he trapped the ball prior to running forward.
As a mate of mine said, there were a lot of dark art theatrics going on by certain players, but the referees ineptitude was a major cause for the game getting as niggly as it did.
My absolute favourite moment though was in the second half when the referee called the ball back during a Bolton attack after ineffective Posh striker Mohamed Eisa went down ‘injured’ for what seemed like the tenth time. What followed was, well, unique. I can only assume that the referee had either reached level eight on the fuckwit scale or that there has been some new rule introduced on how to restart a game. The players from both sides seemed as clueless as us fans as to what was going on. This incident alone caused a good three minutes delay. So when you add the other stoppages and there were a few, plus the five substitutions, then how that equates to just three minutes injury time, god only knows. Piss poor from start to finish and thoroughly deserving of all the pointed ridicule and chants he was getting with both barrels from the Bolton fans.
5. Who ate all the pies?
Got my first look at Chris O’Grady during this match. Which was quite a long one seeing as it must’ve been a good few seconds before his arse followed his moobs out onto the pitch. Just my opinion but if your XXL football kit is skin tight, then maybe you need to cut down on the calorie intake.
Joking aside I was genuinely shocked to see a professional football player of that size step out to represent our club. Certainly can’t think of anyone since Daniel Braaten.
I can only assume that O’Grady has been brought in as some latter day Trevor ‘Sumo’ Morgan as a team character and focal point for our League Two promotion push next season. Apparently he’s been playing out wide as well. Baffled by that. Anyhow, he played up front with Murphy when subbed on in the second half, but Bolton needed much more than two fairly static target men. Can’t blame Hill as there was nobody else on that bench to bring on. From the squad, Weir is obviously out in the cold but I do wonder why Politic didn’t make this one? Another winger to release Dodoo up front was what was needed.