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Five Things: Bolton Wanderers 2-2 Gillingham

Liam shares his five things from Wanderers comeback draw

Bolton Wanderers v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Time to mix things up?

When things aren’t going well, most people’s instant reaction is to look to change the formula. Many will often smugly quote Albert Einstein’s famous musing, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Often though, the problem isn’t the plan, it is the execution of the plan.

Bolton’s style and system has been successful for them up until this point. To rip that up and learn a new ‘Plan A’ seems drastic, particularly given the form they had at the start of the season as a promoted side. So what’s changed? Why have Bolton found life difficult, especially after the home fixture against well-fancied Rotherham United? I believe the answer is simple, but it is not an easy one to solve, they have dipped in confidence.

It isn’t uncommon for a sports team to have a patch of poor form, I’m sure we have all seen this in ourselves in our own work lives, what makes this trickier for Bolton though is their play is built on a system which demands high confidence and cannot function if all on the pitch are not pulling their weight. We’ve all had bad days where our instinct is to just try and get through the day, ‘keep your head down’ but this system does not allow for that, and the knock-on effect can be huge. Opposing teams have seen some success in a high pressing style against us as passing options become limited if a player hesitates for even a moment in showing for the ball, we’ve seen several examples of this over the last few weeks, particularly in the wider areas of the pitch.

So how do you solve it? Getting the first goal in the 2-2 draw against Gillingham did wonders for Bolton’s self-belief, their body language prior to that goal was concerning. This is a good test for the Bolton management team in instilling that belief back into their side, they have done it before, Bolton had a real air of invincibility in the second half of last season, but with a better calibre of opponent, it will be tougher, and those heavier defeats we have become prone to must be avoided.

Don’t change the style, work on the execution

The Number 10 Problem

Apparently, our number 10 left this week to go and play for Horwich St Mary’s, so we are presented with a problem at the very heart of our attack. It is my opinion that the position existed for our former captain Antoni Sarcevic and now the decision comes as to who will step into that hugely important role in the side.

There are a few candidates without there really being a natural fit for the role. The natural evolution of football has seen the development of wide forwards being a more fashionable option rather than the traditional attacking midfielder. Josh Sheehan presents as a potential replacement for the role but seems more influential from a deeper starting position, as does Kieran Lee. An untimely issue for Bolton is that the forward options of Elias Kachunga and Nathan Delfouneso are two of the Wanderers squad who seem to be struggling with form and confidence currently, which is a shame particularly in the case of Delfouneso as he has operated effectively in that type of role before.

I feel the solution to this issue is a simple one. The Great Bill Shankly once said that ‘Football is a simple game, complicated by idiots’ and for me we need to be having our most influential player Dapo Afolayan, in the centre of the pitch, where he can have the most impact on the game. It’s clear we are looking for him when on the ball, why not allow him that freedom to operate and create space in the most dangerous area of the pitch, especially as his tendency is to carry the ball there anyway.

Mr Dependable

One positive the effectiveness drop in Wanderers’ play has highlighted is the work rate and consistency of Lloyd Isgrove. Isgrove’s intensity hasn’t waivered in this difficult period for Bolton and although asked to deputise in an unfamiliar role at right-back, he approached his task with the same high energy and self-belief which has seen many Wanderers fans take to the Welsh winger. I have already touched on the body language of the Wanderers players and Isgrove, along with MJ Williams were the exceptions and the pair were a big reason Bolton were able to drag themselves back into the game.

Firing Blanks

Eoin Doyle is a goal scorer, of that there is no doubt, his record over an extended period speaks for itself, I just can’t help but feel we haven’t seen the best of him in his time at Bolton. I won’t fault Doyle’s application either, his work rate is always of a high standard, and he clearly is a leader on the pitch, always directing those around him.

The brutal fact is we need more goals as a side and that starts with our number 9. Sometimes in life, when you’re not getting the luck you deserve, you must keep doing all the right things and it will turn itself around. We can’t change our style to provide Doyle a strike partner etc to assist him, the only outcome a strategy must aim for is to win a football match and ours is proven one.

Unfortunately, the onus is sometimes on the individual to find a way …

And Finally …

Obviously the build up to this weekends game has been dominated by the surprise departure of Wanderers captain Antoni Sarcevic. The lack of clarity on the matter saw the rumour mill spring into life as all sorts of bizarre theories were shared by Wanderers fans. In a totally unrelated conversation in the East Lower on Saturday afternoon, as Wanderers struggled against a well-organised Gillingham, we discussed who we believed would be the hardest players/staff at the club. This is the top five, if a player did not make the list, it is because we believed these five would have them. So, in reverse order:

5. Will Aimson: New boy on the scene, throwing his weight around

4. Ian Evatt: Uncompromising leader, Wigan fans poster-boy

3. Ricardo Santos: Captain, rumoured to have won the ‘settler for the armband’ with Eoin Doyle and MJ Williams coming off badly for the contest

2. Amadou Bakayoko: For a club famous for it’s big strong lads up front, this guy is up there with the biggest and strongest

1. Matt Gilks: King of the canteen room, feet on the table while telling the academy lads to stop running, not one has challenged him, ever. Pencilled in to fight Andy Todd and Stig Tofting for ‘Hardest Wanderer’ in the Premier Suite in March. Tables £200.