Bolton Wanderers kicked off their Sky Bet League One campaign with a hugely entertaining draw with MK Dons. Alex Baptiste’s 95th minute equaliser ensured Wanderers continued their unbeaten pre-season record into the league campaign, earning a thoroughly deserved point in a match where the lead changed on three occasions.
It was a good overall performance from Bolton and though there were several mistakes made and obvious teething problems, the style of play remained attractive and we looked dangerous in attack.
So, how did the players fare? Here’s my verdict:
Matt Gilks 3
Not good. At fault for both the first and last MK Dons goals at least, with many fans believing him to be at fault for Scott Twine’s free-kick too. He looked miles off the pace, which is understandable given his patchy pre-season due to fitness issues. It begs the question as to why he was selected when Joel Dixon was available and has had much more game time of late. I’d expect, if Dixon performs steadily on Tuesday against Barnsley, that he will replace Gilks at Wimbledon.
Gethin Jones 5
Our steady-Eddie looked was disappointing in the curtain-raiser. His crossing remains very inconsistent which is shame given he works very hard to always be in decent crossing positions. He managed to cope with MK’s threat down their left for the majority of the game, however I felt his positioning left a lot to be desired at times and this was most obviously exploited for their third goal. Jones was very impressive last year but I think he needs to find an extra 10% to cope at this higher level.
Alex Baptiste 6.5
Scored the late equaliser, though he did his best to miss it, and made some crucial interventions when MK looked to break away. However, he was very nearly punished after a first-half slip and has George Johnston to thank for bailing him out. I presume Ricardo Santos will take his place as and when the big Portuguese is fit, but Baptiste remains a steady performer at this level for me.
George Johnston 7
A score of 7 may seem high for someone whose error led to a goal, but I was hugely impressed by his reading of the game and one v one defending. Johnston will probably lose more aerial duels than he wins, especially against strikers of similar stature to Troy Parrott, but if partnered with Rico you would hope they would compliment one another. I liked his composure in possession as well as his passing range and, mistake aside, am convinced he will prove to be an astute signing.
Declan John 6.5
It was a patchy showing from DJ where he probably did as many bad things as he did good. I think he will be tested much more defensively this season than last, and I hope that once he becomes more accustomed to the level, he will be more than able to cope. His interception and cross for our second goal was the highlight of my day. I loved his reading of the game, pace and execution of the cross. These qualities are exactly why he was retained.
MJ Williams 7.5
I thought he was really impressive. The challenge that sparked the hugely childish protestations from MK was a super tackle and nobody can change my mind on that. He is a great screen who challenges with the poise and calmness that was certainly needed given he was on a yellow card for around 60 minutes. I hope he can stay fit as we desperately need a solid holding midfielder given our style of play.
Josh Sheehan 7.5
Another who was thoroughly impressive. His free-kick will get the headlines, as it should given its quality, but it was his calmness in possession and passing range that impressed me. He is tailor-made for our style of play and doesn’t shirk tackles either. I’ve a feeling he will be a fans-favourite come the end of this season.
Antoni Sarcevic 6
I’m torn on Sarce. He most certainly should have had a penalty in the first-half, there can be no doubting that. However, I felt his influence on the game ended after the interval. He is always going to be one of those marmite players who does a lot of good things but a lot of bad, we have to accept that. Nevertheless, I am confident he will contribute enough to keep his place in the team.
Dapo Afolayan 6.5
I thought he was poor in the first-half, despite having an excellent shot from outside the box that I was convinced he had buried. After the interval there was a marked improvement, and he created a couple of good chances that both Eoin Doyle and Lloyd Isgrove should have done better with. He made a bad decision when through on goal to try and set Sheehan up for a chance instead of going himself, which shows me that he is rusty, but he is by far our most exciting player even on days, like this, when not at his best.
Amadou Bakayoko 8
My Man of the Match. I loved his tackling and battling in the first-half where Daniel Harvie attempted to rile him up. This attempt was met with two crunching tackles that got me out of my seat; it was Kevin Davies-esque. It has been commented (by Liam O’Meara) that he is “a proper Bolton Wanderers player” and I agree. He has quality on the ball, is quick and works hard. I have no doubt that he won’t be a regular scorer despite taking his chance well in this game, but that won’t matter to us fans with more performances like this. I am looking forward to seeing more.
Eoin Doyle 6
He should have come away with a goal from this game. It should have happened when the dreadful Laurie Walker in the MK goal passed the ball straight to him on the edge of the box. It also could have happened when he fizzed a curling shot just wide of the left-hand post in the second-half. Either way, despite working very very hard all game, I think he was thrown in too early. A match-sharp Doyle scores probably both chances.
Lloyd Isgrove 6
Worked hard a looked lively. Should have done much better with a chance that was set up by a superb through ball by Afolayan, though.
Elias Kachunga 6
Set up Baptiste’s goal, showing excellent composure to keep the ball in play. Another who I am looking forward to seeing more of.
Kieran Lee 5
Missed a decent chance when set up by Baptiste. Will have his work cut out to replace Sheehan in the starting 11. He’s a good pro, though, and definitely has a big role to play.