Well a draw is better than a loss. I still believe this was a must win game in the same vein as Accrington Stanley 2 weeks ago but once again, we stumble in an important game against possible relegation rivals. While it’s another point on the board, it’s also another game gone to climb that mountain out of the relegation zone. I still firmly believe we can do it but it’s not made things any easier. But what can we take from this mixed bag?
1. O’Grady is not a winger
Chris O’Grady should not be starting games, especially on the wing. I said it in my Player Ratings article and I’ll reiterate it now. He’s not quick so he doesn’t beat players, his touch isn’t that good so he’s a risk when given the ball in quick counters and he doesn’t do his defensive work very well. While the same can be said of Verlinden, Thibaud offers a significantly more potent threat carrying the ball forward and links much better with Chicksen. For me, O’Grady is the man you bring on if you’re searching for a goal to break a stalemate or put against an inexperienced defender. I have faith he can be that impact player but he can’t be starting.
Our own Ian Firth suggested that Hill was looking for O’Grady to be that physical presence to wear down their defenders for Thibaud to make an impact off the bench. While that’s all well and good, it’s a square peg filling a round hole IMO. If that was what Keith was going for, I’d have played Politic. He has more energy than O’Grady, still has that physical presence despite being shorter and weaker while still have that flair, touch and pace to beat players on the wing that we needed in the first half. Either way, we need a proper winger to start games and O’Grady is not it.
2. The injury toll
I swear this club is cursed. Whenever a new manager comes in, he always seems to be plagued by injuries to key players. Since the start of Hill’s tenure, in terms of the senior squad he’s only had 6 players consistently available (Matthews, Emmanuel, Zouma, Chicksen, Lowe and Weir in case you’re interested). Everyone else has been out at some point or another whether small or large (Dodoo would be 7 but he wasn’t signed until October). That is ridiculous. With such a thin squad already, it’s a bloody miracle we’ve been able to put squads together with the 1 in, 1 out policy our treatment room is getting atm.
With the news that Bridcutt may be until the New Year and Luke Murphy suffering a minor training ground injury with no really obvious signs of those out returning any time soon, we’re hanging on by a thread. Plus with our EFL Trophy commitments (which may not be long after Tuesday) and the games in hand still to play, we have to hope that this can be rectified. Fully fit, I believe we have a seriously good squad for this division. The issue is trying to get that squad fully fit and you do have to worry whether this will cost us in the long run this season. Regardless, I do have to credit the players and staff for grinding out results, even with this plague that refuses to leave our club.
3. The pros and cons of youth
One benefit of this huge injury crisis is the opportunities our August heroes are getting in the 1st team. Keith hasn’t been afraid to use the youth players even when his hand hasn’t been forced as demonstrated by the regular use of Sonny Graham in the 1st team setup. However, this is where we get to the con of using youth. In my opinion, Graham is not ready. He certainly has the stamina for the 1st team but I don’t really see much else to his game. This naivety has been exposed the past few games, culminating in that horrific mistake yesterday. Keith clearly has a lot of faith in the lad and I do think he has the potential to be a terrific DM for the future but if I was manager, I’d try and get him out on loan in January.
The pros of his faith in youth though gave us the performance of Ronan Darcy. I was not that impressed by him in August. I didn’t see too much creativity and I thought he was too lightweight. Just goes to show what 3 months of coaching can do to a player. He was without a doubt Man of the Match for me yesterday. He looked that creative spark in the middle of the park we’ve been missing since Crawford’s injury. His deliveries were great, the peak being his assist for Murphy. He dribbled and passed the pall around really well with a lot more composure and strength when he had the opposition close in on him. He really should’ve scored at least one of the 2 golden chances he had to put the cherry on the cake but I won’t hold it against him. He was phenomenal and I hope he carries on this standard in the next few games. Or it may just go to show what having experience around him brings out. Either way, more of the same please.
4. Not over til it’s over
I don’t know about you but I can’t get used to this scoring late goals malarkey. They’re going to send me to an early grave if they keep this up and I’m only 24. Can’t we just finish games off nice and early like we did with Bristol City and Man City academy? Jokes aside, I am buzzing that Dodoo bagged so late and it’s a testament to the mentality of these players that they are playing to the final whistle. Something that was severely lacking last season especially. This combined with Daryl Murphy scoring minutes after his penalty miss in our last home match and I can’t help but pity those fans who walked out early. Obviously we’d all like it to be over and done with much earlier but moments like these give me hope that this in this new Bolton era, that we actually truly will fight and scrap for any and every single point we can possibly obtain until the final whistle.
5. The Keith Hill philosophy
One common divisive point amongst fans that I’ve seen is how he comes across in his interviews. Some find his interviews to be endearing, with his charm, personality and witticisms shining through while still being mindful of everything around him. Others think he’s a gobshite, decorating his game unnecessarily with poetic language and metaphors to distract from properly answering questions as well as just coming across as exceedingly arrogant. I fall more towards the latter category but it doesn’t bother me like it seems to do a fair few other people. I’ve learnt to focus on the meat of what he serves us rather than the garnishes. I have my issues with him every now and again, like his dismissal of the Stanley game as arguing with his missus over a crap Chinese. If you order that same Chinese later down the line, you likely haven’t learnt your lessons from when you ordered it last time, have you?
I choose to focus on the meat of his interviews rather than the garnishes. If that’s the way he approaches things, I can live with it as long as he produces quality and results. Overall, I think it would be fair to say that the majority of Bolton fans believe that Keith Hill has produced said goods in his first 100 days in charge of Bolton. Despite the adversity of injury crises, possible further points deductions, no preseason, embargoes, squad limits and having just 2 days in the transfer market, he’s managed to pull of some real magic so far in his time here. Whatever he’s instilling in the club at the moment is primarily working so far, giving new lease of life to previously derided figures from last season e.g. Lowe, Matthews, Murphy and looking to have pulled off some real coups e.g. Chicksen, Verlinden, the other Murphy etc. Whatever you think of his interviews and his, for lack of better term, media persona, I believe he’s been doing a cracking job so far and I hope it continues. He can be a gobshite all he wants as long he produces.