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Five Things: Bolton Wanderers 1-2 Oldham Athletic

Picking just five from the avalanche of questions or points raised by a disastrous performance is going to be a challenge.

Bolton Wanderers v Oldham Athletic - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

Whilst it is always true that you need ten or eleven games played before a true reflection of how a club is doing can be given, it is plainly obvious that the plan Phoenix envisaged and sold to FV upon his arrival in regard to completely revolutionising the football structure is going badly wrong.

At the very best, the glass half full view is that this side looks like a full squad rebuild job to hopefully make a promotion challenge next season. In some ways that’d be understandable. Bolton fell off a cliff at the end of the Anderson/admin era and our new owners could only afford a lifebelt to save the club, when a RNLI lifeboat was needed in order to really turn things around on the pitch. Then the COVID pandemic has and still is causing absolute chaos to any plans that the club had for a recovery.

However, marquee signings headlined a big PR drive behind a highly likeable, ambitious and engaging young manager that Bolton were gunning for straight promotion this season. A huge recruitment drive followed. All summer an apathetic and disillusioned fan base were charmed into buying over eight thousand season tickets to witness the ‘turning of the corner’ to a new bright future. The latest debacle against Oldham is making that scenario more of a Cuban ‘Bay of Pigs’ disaster than a French style ‘Viva la Revolution’.

All businesses, sporting or otherwise live or die by how they deliver against the ambitions they set. And our clubs summer banging of the promotion drum really has put the pressure on big time for a team with just one win and one draw in nine over all games.

Big, big questions now as to whether the players brought in are good enough to play Evatts preferred system at League Two level. Maybe a data driven system needs to be backed up by a proper scouting network involving people who actually have a long proven background in football should be the answer? But this point is for a later date.

Evatt meanwhile is really under the cosh now. He needs to conjure up a solution pretty sharpish in the next five games, otherwise his position will quickly become untenable, costly appointment or not. It is by no means all nor even mostly his fault, but managers are always the focal point for on field failure and that isn’t going to change for him.

Still, all is not lost, the season is still in its infancy, although very much late primary school stage now rather than fresh faced toddler. So, five things.

Coaching

Evatt needs to somehow tease a winning formula from the large group of players recently assembled. He stated to the BN post match that “The way we fix it is hard work, no sleep, and sift through the debris trying to figure out a team to go and beat Barrow on Tuesday.” To me, that is the reaction of inexperience, to dive in, try to do everything yourself and continue digging when in a hole. To use another metaphor by doing that he won’t be able to see the wood for the trees.

Frankly I think he needs to do the exact opposite, take a step back, have a day off, come back, look at the bigger picture and go on from there.

Perhaps his biggest problem is that there is just not enough coaches to give him that bigger view. It’s just him, Atherton & Gilks. Whilst Gilks has just Crellin and Alexander to look after, Evatt and Atherton have 27 players to coach. It’s too much. This isn’t Barrow. It’s a big club, with big expectations and a big squad. Litherland has the same problem in the Academy incidentally.

Salvation could come from an unexpected corner though. Darby, Lee, Spooner and McCann are currently all furloughed. Maybe it will be money well spent by the club to immediately bring back these highly experienced coaches, with decades of football at a high level between them, to help out. They could quickly give Evatt an in-depth view on what each player is capable of, their potential, best positions, limitations, fitness and the myriad of other details needed. Bill Shankly used to swear by the Liverpool boot room. Maybe that is what Evatt needs. Get in a room with the coaches and use them to bounce ideas off as to ways forward, which players are ready, what changes need to be made. Surely that is a better option than just carrying on as is to an ignominious sacking?

Defence

Perhaps the only position that has evolved as per Evatt’s mantra of ‘trust me, I seem to be a slow starter but I know what I’m doing, it will all come together’ has been the defence. Absolutely the headline act of the shitfest served up in those first half dozen games. Santos was so bad as a right sided central defender, I would’ve been happy for him to never wear the white jersey again. New position at the top of a back three, new man. Outcast to first name on the sheet stuff. The trio of Brockbank, Santos and Delaney seems to work and has brought much needed stability to that back line. I’ve not seen Greenidge play so can’t pass judgement on him, but I don’t see anyone else replacing these three at the moment. Yes Santos still has a dispossession clanger in him and yes they all dropped off badly for the last twenty minutes. But in fairness, they had to go the whole game holding the fort with no help whatsoever from midfield or those on the wings. I mean, it’s outrageous the amount of space left when our team attacks or defends. We get picked apart every game.

The big problem though is that for Evatt to improve the team, maybe a back three is a luxury we can’t afford and I haven’t seen any evidence yet that any of these players can survive as a traditional centre back pairing.

Wingbacks

Sorry but I’m just not seeing it. None of our new signings can play this admittedly difficult role, be it through inexperience, inability or aptitude. That doesn’t mean I think that those assigned are crap. Far from it. Gordon aside that is. This fella needs a Santos level turnaround because his defensive performances have been non existent and his final ball has been utterly hopeless so far. Yes he’s fast but we need far more than that. Hickman, Kioso, Mascoll & Jones (before injury), have all shown good aspects to their game be it in attack or consistency in defence. But not both and that’s my point. I see players who can be molded into good wingers or full backs but I do not see wingbacks and the Oldham match was just the latest example of that. Major fail on the recruitment side in my opinion & maybe these specialist positions, which are so crucial to Evatts preferred system, should’ve been the early marquee signings. I can only see a system with both fullbacks and wingers being of any success with the players Evatt has at his disposal.

Midfield

Was seen as the sure thing preseason. Top rated players that the rest of the team could be built around. Crawfords quality was known to us fans thanks to his performances last season. Sarcevic was player of the year and had won promotion with Plymouth the previous season. Comley’s passing stats had leapt out of the data analysis like a freshly on heat doe to a randy stag in rutting season. Added to that the young backup of Tom White gave surprising MOTM performances early on, until injured of course. Nine games in however and midfield performances are of massive concern, particularly as the whole team cannot perform until these lads get their act together. Comley has just been consistently poor. Sarce looked unfit and playing like someone who had spent his summer resting on his laurels. Crawford has been ineffective bar the odd flash of quality. It is simply not good enough. Whilst hilariously hopeless at interviews, on field Tutte seems to have something about him. Is a straight swap for Comley the answer? I’m not sure.

I’m wondering whether having five at the back is a better solution. A defender such as Santos could play the DM role or sweeper as it used to be known and then two from Tutte Sarce, Crawford and, dare I say it, Darcy for the midfield places.

Up front

Evatt needs to have a word with Doyle, bloody fine him for dropping out of position if needed. I get Eoin’s frustration, he wants to score, he wants to sign off his career winning things at a big club. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I get and appreciate him wanting to dig in, drop back and help his teammates out. But that isn’t what he was signed for. How many times against Oldham was Doyle out of position when we did break away to attack? I counted a good half dozen. On one occasion it was Doyle driving towards goal with Sarce and Crawford in the box with Delfouneso waiting for that pass. What the fuck is that all about. Similarly Delfouneso was all too often out on the wing. Both of them need to be in or around the box giving the opposition defenders something to worry about and let the other team members do the jobs they were brought in for.

On the whole Bolton are playing a system at the moment that our players aren’t up to. Good possession stats mean absolutely nothing if they don’t create chances that can rip through the opposition. We are a team of befuddled strangers unable or unwilling to play the system the manager wants. Sometimes being off form or with low morale can make a player look a lot worse than he is. Some of these players though just aren’t good enough. It’s down to Evatt to sort the wheat from the chaff and get those players who ARE good enough winning football matches. Time is quickly running out. We aren’t at panic stations yet, but another month of these performances will certainly be getting the Star Trek klaxon going off at full blast.