After an excellent November, in which Wanderers were unbeaten in the league, it’s fair to say that December has not followed in the same vein. Although it is perhaps too soon to call it the dreaded Manager of the Month curse, if Bolton don’t get a result tonight things will start to look a lot more precarious.
Bolton will play in-front of spectators for the first time in over nine months, if you don't count those standing on walls/bins and peering over fences! The addition of around 2,000 Cheltenham supporters will certainly add to the occasion as we look to get back on winning ways. Hopefully some of us will be returning to the stadium ourselves this upcoming weekend, but until then - we will let the Cheltenham, and perhaps a few Wanderers, fans watch this one from the stands.
Tonight’s opponents are high flyers Cheltenham Town, who are unbeaten in their last six league games and have not lost at home since the middle of October. Plenty of talk ahead of the game has focused on Cheltenham’s directness. Ben Tozer and his long throw is a huge asset to Cheltenham, he has directly assisted his fellow defender William Boyle three times this season – the joint highest assist to goal scorer combination in the division.
This evening’s game against Cheltenham is the first time that the two clubs have ever met in league competition. The last outing between the two clubs came back in November 2016 in the EFL Trophy group stages, where Wanderers lost 1-0 thanks to a stoppage time penalty.
Ian Evatt confirmed that after missing out of the defeat to Walsall at weekend through sickness, Lloyd Isgrove returns to the squad. Whereas Peter Kioso and Arthur Gnahoua will miss out after both picking up injuries in the defeat at Banks’s Stadium. The latter of the two looks to be more long term, with the January window around the corner, I suspect that attacking players will be at the forefront of Evatt’s plans.
What would I like to see from the Starting XI?
I would like to see George Taft come into the defence, whether this be on the right hand side of the back three to replace Baptiste or to replace Delaney on the left. I think his aerial presence will be needed to help defend Cheltenham’s direct style. Taft has on average won 6 aerials duels per game this season. Delaney has won 5, Baptiste and Santos come in at just under four per game. For me, I think the back three needs shaking up after the consecutive defeats.
With Kioso being injured, the question is where do we play Gethin Jones? As well as he is doing, I don’t like a right footer playing on the left. I understand it can be effective when playing with specialist, inverted wingers, but we aren’t. There have been plenty of times in the past few games when Jones has lost all forward momentum to check back onto his right foot, where a cross with his left would have been more beneficial. Again, for me, I would like to see Mascoll or Gordon come back into the side and of the two I am leaning more towards Mascoll. If he opts to keep Gethin out on the left, we could potentially see Isgrove or Hickman filling into that RWB slot.
Next up, the midfield. The introduction of George Thomason has been somewhat of a surprise recently. But it is clear that his passing ability is excellent. My worry is his defensive responsibilities could be hurting us. We simply don’t have a suitable replacement for Andrew Tutte, certainly not one that is registered and ready to play. Comley hasn’t really impressed this season, but might be more useful in the midfield to keep things ticking over against the better sides. My worry with him is his the consistent fouling in positions that can hurt us. So for now, I would stick with Thomason and Sarcevic.
Ali Crawford needs some time away from the first eleven. He’s trying too hard to impact the game. On Saturday, his opening half an hour was his best of the season. He kept it simple and didn’t try the killer pass or a long range shot at every opportunity. Then it changed, his set pieces were way off and his impact fizzled out. I think he would be a lot better trying to influence a game from the bench, until he finds his form and gets his confidence back. If Evatt doesn’t play Isgrove at RWB like he did against Port Vale when he came on, I would like him to start alongside Delfouneso, playing off Doyle in a 3-4-2-1.
I would go with Gilks, Baptiste, Santos, Taft, Jones, Sarcevic, Thomason, Mascoll, Isgrove, Delfouneso, Doyle and then use the likes of Delaney, Crawford and Darcy from the bench.
At the time of writing, the bookies have Cheltenham clear favourites at 4/6 with Wanderers coming in at 17/4 and the draw 14/5. Despite having scored seven goals in his last eight games, Eoin Doyle is SEVENTH favourite to get on the scoresheet tonight. At the time of writing, he is 11/5 to score at any time. My punt would be a BTTS Draw with Doyle to score anytime, which would come in at a very modest 11/1.