Ian Evatt started the season with a defeat in his opening competitive game as Bolton boss after Wanderers were narrowly beaten by 2-1 by Bradford City. Subsequently, Bolton bow out of the Carabao Cup at the point of entry for the third time in three consecutive years. But, it's not all doom and gloom. There were certainly aspects of the game that Wanderers fans could take away as positives. Here are some of the main talking points after our first real look at “Brand Evatt” and the new look Bolton Wanderers.
The one concern I had when signing Eoin Doyle was that he is not an all round striker. He scores goals, fact. But, when used as a target man or when he is needed to drop deep to collect the ball to create something for himself - he would, inevitably, struggle to be as prolific in terms of goal output. This was shown on Saturday, at times both strikers were needed to drop deep into midfield to collect the ball. Whilst this is something that plays to Delfouneso’s strengths, Doyle struggled. The cross completion rate during the Bradford game was just 14%, suggesting the delivery to the frontmen wasn’t good enough. Having said that, I thought Nathan Delfouneso was brilliant. His desire to get on the ball and attempt to create something was visible to everyone. His running in behind the defensive line was valuable and created chances, not to mention creating Wanderers’ first goal under Ian Evatt.
Shaky At The Back
As Evatt has said himself, we conceded two poor goals on Saturday which were both avoidable. Not only whilst conceding the two goals did we show a lack of positional awareness and defensive instinct. As seen in the highlights linked below, at 0:34 we see a poor, unchallenged header by Santos fall straight to the feet of Kurtis Guthrie before Billy Crellin pulls off a smart save to prevent the away side from opening the scoring.
Following straight on from this, we see Taft marking Guthrie close to the halfway line. A quick ball round the corner to Tyler French catches both him and Gordon out of position. Santos loses the experienced Novak and he is left with a simple finish to put the Bantams ahead.
At 1:46, you can see Anthony O’Connor’s well flighted cross land perfectly onto the head of the substitute, Harry Prichard - not Lee Novak as the co-commentator seemed to spend the next 20 minutes believing. Again, the attacker pulls away from the back of Santos and is left with a free header which he puts away with great skill.
Of course, it’s early days and I’m sure the priority for Evatt will be to iron out these defensive mistakes.
A Loan Star
Tom White, a superb debut. He looked so comfortable on the ball and always seemed to be the focal point of every move involving the midfield. He seems to have the awareness that he knows what he intends to do with the ball before he receives it. His range of passing really impressed me from the outset and he had a very commanding debut in a Bolton shirt. The below clip from BWFC Analysis on Twitter, demonstrates exactly what I’m referring to.
Many fans, along with myself, questioned the decision to start Tom White ahead of Ali Crawford when the team sheet was released ahead of kick off. His performance demonstrated this was definitely the correct decision. His movement both on and off the ball was refreshing as he looked to both create attacks and create space for his teammates. I think that the Blackburn Rovers loanee could be a real star for Wanderers this season, should he build on his accomplished debut.
An honourable mention must also go to Billy Crellin. I thought that he made two or three excellent saves, the pick of the bunch being the acrobatic save to deny Billy Clarke’s deft chip from sailing into the top corner. Not only did he pull of some good saves, his distribution was impressive. He was comfortable with the ball at his feet, showed a range of passing with both his left and right foot and looked to release the ball to his back line as soon as he received it, to keep the momentum building.
Who knows how many slots we have available in the first team, I’m not sure the EFL are even 100% on what their own rules are. But, I think its guaranteed we will see at least one more addition to the strike force. The addition of Shaun Miller on Saturday was a surprise, albeit somewhat underwhelming. Although I agree that we needed someone to come in and challenge the front men for a place in the starting eleven, I think we need to recruit a ‘Plan B’ if you will. I have no issues with going direct to chase a game when losing, but I’m not sure the likes of Delfouneso, Doyle and Miller are particularly suited to adopting a target man role. It’s been suggested that Ronan Darcy has not impressed Evatt so far and is struggling to find a role that suits him in this style and formation. I would not be surprised to see him moved on.
More importantly, we need a replacement for Dennis Politic. We need someone that can come off the bench, if required, grab the game by the scruff of it’s neck and produce something from nothing. Whilst Ali Crawford was brought on to add some creativity, he did not receive the ball often enough. If Dennis hadn't have suffered his injury, I sincerely believe he would’ve had the ability to come on and change the game. Whether it be take on a handful of opposition players and make something happen, or just have a shot on goal from 30 yards to test the keeper. This is something that this squad is lacking, in my honest opinion.
Adjusting to Life Without Fans
This may sound somewhat bizarre but if fans were allowed in the stadium on Saturday, we’d have won that game. Even after going a goal down, I believe the momentum that we would have helped build in that second half after Antoni Sarcevic’s equaliser would have ensured Wanderers went on to build on the goal and see the game out.
Despite all clubs being in the same position, it is no secret that Wanderers are one of the most supported teams in the division. As Bolton do not have the team cohesion that other clubs may have, our biggest asset is our fan base. Evatt has alluded to how important it will be to get fans back in the stadium and once this is permitted, it will be our duty as Wanderers supporters to act as the 12th man and help the University of Bolton Stadium become the fortress that we know it should be.