I’ll be honest. Coming into this game, I only knew two things about Shrewsbury aside from their league position. First, that Sam Ricketts was their manager. Took me a while to appreciate him as a player but considering he’s been there for over a year now, he must be taking to management now rather well. Second, was that Ebanks-Landell would be a pain in the arse in their defence, which he was. Everything else, not a scooby. I certainly learnt some things about their style of play. But what did we learn about ourselves?
Here are my 5 Things:
1. Remi resurgence
Starting from the back, special mention has to go to the display of Remi Matthews today. He was absolutely terrific and it’s unfortunate that he didn’t get a clean sheet out of it. It was chalk and cheese compared to his lethargic performance against Southend. He barely put a foot wrong. He showed no hesitation in coming off his line to clear or catch the ball from crosses and tricky lobbed passes. Even if his clearances didn’t always fall for us, he was instantly switched on to react to whatever came next. The kicking still needs work but I’m nitpicking.
Now please excuse me while I gush over his double save near the end of the game. Sweet Jesus that was a thing of beauty. Especially that first save. That stop is basically goalkeeping porn. After rewatching it at least five times over, I still have no idea how he pulled that off then recovered so quickly to spread his frame so large to stop the next shot. That saved our point and it has to be commended. I hope whoever we bring in next month for competition in net pushes him to further heights. I’ll also quickly mention the defenders in front of him who were resolute
2. Ronan and Thibaud Connection
These 2 creative youngsters fed off each other so very well yesterday didn’t they? Near enough every single chance we made came off one of these lads or a combination of the two. Daryl Murphy’s missed header? Darcy and Verlinden bombing down the wing before the latter crossed a pinpoint ball in. Darcy’s curling effort? Verlinden and him playing a short corner and bouncing off each other. If it wasn’t Thibaud trickily manoeuvring past their full backs to make something happen, it was Darcy’s brilliant passing and commitment running that made things happen.
We all know that we may lose Thibaud in January when he returns to Stoke. I’m going to be optimistic and say we’ll get him back, even if it’s late in the month. I pray we do because him and Darcy are excellent together. Plus, in general, it’s just great to have those options for creative outlets in the game. It’s a huge change from relying heavily on a very inconsistent Ameobi last season for any sort of magic. If Thibaud has to go, I hope Keith and his team have identified a similar sort to replace him because we can’t be sacrificing quality on the wings if we want to continue pushing up the league. For now, we’ve got at least one more game to go with these two pulling the strings. Let’s savour it.
3. The mounting midfield problems
Before I get on to being a bit more descriptive and offering solutions for our current situation I have to get this off my chest. Jason Lowe, what an absolute idiot you were yesterday. I’d ask what you were thinking but you clearly weren’t. Now that, that’s out of the way, I did mention that I would’ve dropped Lowe anyway as I think he’s been poor for a few games now but I guess he’s taken care of that for me. Hope he use this time out to get his back to how he was in September/October when he was excellent. But now that we also have Bridcutt out once again we have a real issue with Luke Murphy being our only in form midfielder in our current system, what do we do to resolve this?
(Quick sidenote. How much better did we look when Bridcutt was out and people played in their natural positions? I don’t want people saying Earl is a LB. For me, he looks more comfortable in the centre. Who’d have bloody thought?)
The way I see it, we have three options I can see Hill implementing. Option 1: Sonny Graham. I’d mention Weir as well but let’s face it, he won’t play and will probably be the first name out the door when the window opens. I’ve said multiple times how I don’t think the lad is ready plus past poor performances are undoubtedly knocking his confidence. It’s the most likely option we’ll see but not the one I’d implement myself. I’d send the lad out on loan in January myself. Option 2: Brockbank at DM. It’s a bit of a risk considering he’s just come back but Hill has proven he’s not above taking a risk. I believe that he’s certainly capable of playing that position and this would be the option I’d consider. Option 3: A change of system. Now could be a good time to try 2 up top or a 4-3-3. There’s too many options for this to go through for me to cover in this article alone but we definitely have the current personnel available to consider this.
4. When it’s not one, it’s the other
If we had actually scored, let’s say about 60-80% of the clear cut chances we had created in that 1st half, we’d have been 3-0 up. I’d sung our praises about how clinical we were against Southend so the lads were desperate to prove me wrong on something I guess. I was shocked at our wastefulness. We mentioned Murphy earlier with his agonising header just over the bar but he also missed a decent opportunity from a corner. I hope our bagsman isn’t losing his touch. Dodoo also hit a shot from a good position he created for himself straight at the keeper instead of towards the corner which was disappointing.
Now I’d be lying if I said that it’s easy to get this balance correct consistently. It’s not. We’ll have games like today where we create the chances but struggle to finish them off. Meanwhile, we’ll have games like Southend where we are awful in delivering our final ball but when we pull them off, it’s going in 9/10 times. We may not have worked on it enough or the players may not have worked with each other enough yet to get to grips with that consistency yet and considering our time frame so far, that’s understandable. But if this escape is to be pulled off, we’ll need that consistent balance sooner rather than later. We’ll have to keep the faith that the players are capable of that execution.
5. F*** this decade
Seriously. F*** the 2010’s. It has been an unbelievably crap decade to be a Bolton fan. The false dawn of Owen Coyle looked promising before being embarrassed by Stoke at Wembley. Then it pretty much nothing but downhill from there. Losing our best players either via injury or selling them for pennies. I can’t say whether it equates to the dire straits of the 80’s as I didn’t experience it but I can imagine this decade is at least on par. Financial difficulties, very few moments to celebrate and littered with relegations and losses on the pitch. I wish the Men In Black would neuralise my memory of this decade as a Bolton fan.
I’m sure you’re not reading this to hear about my life but I came into this decade a naive 14 year old with a lot of potential but not putting in as much as work as I should have to fulfill it properly. Now I walk out of this decade, 24, worn down by life and now having to find my place in the world. I feel much like Bolton do now heading into the 2020’s. After having to endure a quagmire of crap, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with a promising future beyond that. However in both cases, it’s going to take hard work from ourselves as well as the unwavering support of those associated with us. We’re not owed anything for having a horrific 2010’s but we can learn from this decade to make our next one much better and fulfil the promise our club has.