It was a Tuesday night in Bolton and Bristol Rovers made the trip up north looking to see a goal for the first time in 2020. The last time these two sides met it marked the beginning of a purple patch following the appointment of Keith Hill and David Flitcroft, Bolton went on to win 2-0 at the Memorial Stadium and that is still our only away win of this season. The pre match build up saw Keith bemoaning the chaos of the last few weeks, with multiple players struggling with injuries and a mystery illness that appears to have even caused chaos for the chefs. Bolton came into this fixture looking for their first win in six but most importantly with a need to solidify a squad that will likely be playing together next season in League 2.
The game started much as you’d expect for a dreary evening in Bolton. The tempo was slow and little of note was created much by both sides throughout the first half but it was Bristol who had the better showing. Bolton’s best chance fell to top scorer Daryl Murphy who uncharacteristically headed the ball directly at Blackman and aside from that chance we threatened little. Instead it was Bristol who had the lions share of possession and the most clear-cut chances, requiring Remi to be at his shot stopping best. One of note being an excellent save following a freekick that he tipped onto the post with the follow up being cleared off the line by Nsiala to keep the score at 0-0. Indeed with little happening both home and away fans used much the first half to bemoan the referee’s performance. Inconsistency at this level appears to be a hallmark of match officials and Tuesday night’s performance from Andy Haines was no exception. A series of poor decisions saw the home fans turn on him quickly and it was only poor finishing by Bristol that the result of one of those decisions didn’t cost us a goal.
The second half followed on in much of the same pattern as the first, with Bolton trying to push Bristol back but a war of attrition developing in the centre of the pitch with the two sides lumping it long in an effort to try and create something. With Bristol winless in 10 and Bolton in 6, it was what you’d expect. Keith Hill made a surprisingly early change on the 53rd minute to bring on Joe Dodoo for Emmanuel, pushing Jason Lowe to right back. Of course he did this right as I was complaining about his terrible use of substitutions in previous games but to give Keith some credit, he used his bench effectively. The change of shape had us looking more of a threat going forwards but didn’t help us any at the back, with Hamilton pushed into midfield and Lowe to right back. With this we relied more on Luke Murphy to dictate and that is not something he’s great at without strong support around him. Also, we all know by now that Jason Lowe shouldn’t be anywhere near right back but I guess needs must.
In the end it was Bristol who broke the deadlock first. I’ll admit most Bolton fans would have placed bets on Bristol scoring against us. A side that hasn’t scored a goal yet in 2020 was always going to come to the Uni Bol and find a goal. After a weak 50/50 from Nsiala saw him concede possession in a dangerous position, the ball was worked out wide and Alex Rodman whipped in a low cross for the dangerous Clarke-Harris to guide into the back of the net. Arguably should have been better defended by Liam Edwards at the near post. The game was now Bristol’s to lose but to give Bolton credit they really went through the gears and pushed ‘’The Gas’’ back into their end. “New” signing Will Buckley was brought on in the 69th minute for the unusually quiet but still tireless Ronan Darcy. Unfortunately he didn’t last 10minutes before a robust challenge saw him stretchered off with a broken tibia, it’s a big blow to Bolton who are already suffering with injuries. The man marmite, Chris O’Grady, replaced Buckley and his introduction saw Bolton go even more direct. The pressure eventually paid off though as a deflected cross from Politic after some good play resulted in a corner that, who else, but Daryl Murphy guided past Blackman for his 8th of the season.
After Bolton scored the game wore on quite the same as before but by the end each side seemed resigned to settle for a point. Even through an extended extra time period following the delay from Buckley’s injury, little was created but and Ollie Clarke breakaway that was quickly closed down and resulted in nothing more than a flashed shot over the crossbar. A refreshing interview post match from Daryl Murphy told us that the team isn’t happy with the poor performances and it was nice to hear the honesty, without a Keith Hill metaphor. It would be nice if we could keep Murphy going into next season, he works hard for the team and has done since he signed for us. Would probably score a hatful in League 2. Ultimately the project at this point is long term and building a team that will compete next season. The talent is there in places but it needs refining. Hopefully with a few signings coming in before the window closes and with Crawford and Hobbs coming back from injury we can improve on recent performances. Maybe even finish above Southend, now that would be a laugh.