Murder on the Orient Express? Murdered by the Orient Express.
To put it simply, yesterday was a complete and utter disgrace. This was going to be some kind of long winded rant with no purpose or direction, but I’m going to try and break down some of that garbage we endured.
After the response to the torrid opening to the Barrow game and the manner at which we started against Bradford, I thought we had turned a corner. Wrong. We’re talking about a 36 year old professional who has made over 500 senior career appearances. That back pass to Crellin was woeful. It didn't have the legs to make it the 20/30 yards and Crellin’s indecisiveness left Johnson with a clear goalscoring opportunity. The Orient forward took it round Crellin and was brought down. What happens if Crellin got sent off there? Outfielder in goal for 90 minutes? For Christ’s sake put a goalkeeper on the bench, if we wanted a wake up call, there it was. There is simply no need for seven outfield substitutes. Anyway, let’s face it, it was a terrible penalty. But, fair play a save is a save - to say they’ve been few and far between this season is an understatement. The penalty save was pretty irrelevant anyway as six minutes later Johnson put the ball in the back of the net from close range.
Before Orient went ahead, Wanderers should have been 1-0 up. Crawford played a forward thinking through ball to Gnahoua who opted to flick it with his left foot rather than smash it home with his right. After going a goal down, Bolton responded fairly well (for a brief moment or two). Delfouneso ran down the right and put in a pinpoint cross for Brockbank to slot home. The latter looked to have misjudged the bounce on the cross and opted to go with his head rather than his foot, subsequently bouncing his header off the turf and over the crossbar. The second of SEVENTEEN shots off target for Bolton. Simply not good enough.
There’s no two ways about it, Billy Crellin is not good enough. Whether it’s due to senior inexperience or just that he’s bobbins, I’ll let you make your own mind up. A club of this size should not be anywhere near this division. But whilst we are, we should be sat at the top of the tree looking down at every other club. When Crellin signed, the argument was put forward that Crewe, Plymouth and Swindon were all promoted out of the division with a young, inexperienced goalkeeper. That may well be the case, but I will explain why that argument was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. Firstly, the success stories of last season were signed from Premier League or top end Championship clubs. Whilst Billy Crellin has the pedigree of being a youth international, Fleetwood Town are hardly renowned for their long list of academy graduates. Secondly, each of those inexperienced goalkeepers had a senior professional challenging for a place in the starting eleven. We have Matt Gilks who is clearly never going to get a game and Matty Alexander who can't even find a place amongst the substitutes. Neither of the two aforementioned goalkeepers are challenging Crellin’s position in the team. He is essentially untouchable, regardless of any errors that he makes. Orient had six shots on target, one was the penalty, four resulted in goals and the other one was potentially the slowest free kick attempt I’ve ever seen - which he nearly made a hash of! 49% of shots on target that Wanderers have faced this season have resulted in a goal. FORTY NINE PERCENT. Not acceptable.
Free Kick Disaster
I don't even know where to start, it is just so basic. Let’s start with that first one, I’ve probably watched it back fifteen times. For the sake of your own sanity, don't. It is a comedy of errors. I’m not even going to talk about Crellin’s positioning, or complete lack of, he may as well been stood with the linesman. Moving on, one of the first things that you get taught as a kid playing football is that the big bastards go in the wall. We had Sarcevic, Crawford, Darcy and Tutte with Delaney in the most useless position on the end. Now those four, other than Delaney, were comfortably our smallest players on the pitch. Granted, they aren't defenders and some of the logic would have been that the defenders should be free to defend. But, McAnuff was ALWAYS shooting from that position.
Secondly, as a child I was always taught when standing in a wall you act as a one. The clue is in the name. Stand together, jump together - that is literally it. I mean look at the state of the image below. At least look like something that resembles a wall rather than a half arsed attempt at Tetris.
The next one was even worse. Was it worse because of who scored? Most definitely. I couldn't bring myself to watch it half as many times as I did the first, mainly because I didn't need to. Crellin’s positioning this time wasn't actually too bad. He looked fairly central, which is expected when facing a free kick from that range. However, the wall yet again was useless. The positioning looked all wrong. Now clearly we only had the one angle thanks to iFollow. But, they looked too far over to the right. Wilkinson managed to hit the ball on the inside of the wall and it still nestled into the bottom corner. Sarcevic doesn't come away blameless though, he is the only one in the wall that jumped and turned his back in the process. Could he have blocked the shot should he have stayed facing the ball? Possibly. Crellin still should have been able to keep it out. It looked as if it went through his arms.
Statistics, Statistics, Statistics
They quite literally mean nothing. Who cares if we had more possession, more shots or more passes completed? At the end of the day there is only one statistic that matters: goals scored. According to whoscored.com, Wanderers dominated in every attacking statistic other than the only one that anyone should truly care about. We had more shots, albeit none on target. Every single outfielder that played longer than 20 minutes, except Baptiste, had an attempt. Shooting practice this week then lads? They say that statistics don't lie, perhaps not, but they don’t give the true picture. You could look at those stats and suggest that Wanderers should have come away with a result, that would have been nice. I remember that when Parkinson would get slated for his style of play, people would argue that they would rather see attacking, “attractive” football and lose rather than grind out a win or a draw by hoofing it up to a target man. I wonder if those people are of the same opinion now?
Another Injury Crisis
Would it be a Bolton Wanderers season without injuries making things a million times worse? Of course not. Six of our seven senior attacking players are now injured, Delfouneso the latest to join Politic, Faal, Miller, Isgrove and Doyle. We are so much worse without Doyle, which seems ridiculous considering he wasn’t getting any service before he got injured. If Doyle played against Bradford, he’d have probably gotten a hat trick. If he’d have played yesterday, we might have even managed a shot on target. If my auntie had balls and all that. We’re judging Miller by a short cameo in a cup game, as that is all we have to go off, but he is needed more than ever right now. We have also got to hope that Delfouneso coming off was precautionary and he will be available for Tuesday. Fonz going off injured put an end to all hope of getting back into the game, in my opinion. He’s been one of our best players, certainly in an attacking sense. With no attacker on the bench and Ghanoua not being an out and out number nine, he looked lost. It’s a shame we weren't playing at home because he’d have at least been able to find his way home after the game.
Where do we go from here?
Is getting rid of Evatt the answer? Absolutely not. Some people fail to realise that even without Evatt we’d be stuck with some of these players which simply have not proven themselves to be good enough for this club. The last thing we want to do is to try and teach some of them how to play a new style when they haven’t got their heads around this one yet.
Reports suggest that we paid £200k for Evatt and his “backroom staff”, plus the three year deal we gave him. It is not financially viable to get rid yet and I don't want to either. I do believe that he will be a success here, it's just taking longer than it should have.
Again, eyebrows have to be raised at the management structure at the club. Who’s in charge - is it Evatt or Phoenix? Who is responsible for the signings which simply haven’t worked? Why have we still only got two outfield coaches for a group of around 25 players?
Why haven't we got another goalkeeper? Send Crellin back to Fleetwood if we have to. Let’s at least try and develop our own player if we're sticking with the youngster approach. Alexander can't do any worse - can he? There are still so many keepers available in the free agent market. Without any research, Ben Alnwick, Lee Camp, Andy Lonergan and Rob Elliot are all still available - surely one of those is worth a punt? We need experience either starting or at least competing for a place. We’re in November, we’ll soon see players dropping down to levels they shouldn't in the hope of getting a contract. We are in desperate need of someone challenging for the jersey. If unchallenged, it doesn't matter who you have there, they will become complacent and simply won’t perform well enough.
I don't know what the answer is, but some kind of change is needed. Whether it be new faces to the squad, a reshuffle behind the scenes or even just a run of consistent performances. Football is a funny game, we could see a run of three league wins on the spin and sit just outside the play offs. But, this is Bolton. We don’t do things the easy way. Likelihood is we’ll probably have another meltdown a week on Friday when we get embarrassed by Salford live on Sky. Oh to be a Wanderers fan.
Will we see a reaction on Tuesday night when Wanderers host fellow strugglers Mansfield? Let’s face it, we need to. But we’ll see. As a wise man once said, “The proof is in the pudding and in this case, the pudding is a football.”