|Ipswich Town 2 v 5 Bolton Wanderers|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 11th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
One Club, One Community, One Town - Notes for Bolton Wanderers
Friday, 10th Sep 2021 15:00
As the international break comes to an end, TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp as Bolton Wanderers visit Portman Road.
The two-week break has drawn to a close with Ipswich Town back in action after their game against Wycombe Wanderers was postponed last week.
The visitors, Bolton Wanderers, fresh from Monday night’s goalless draw against Burton Albion, have started their season well after promotion out of League Two last season.
Ian Evatt’s men finished last season with a flurry of wins, ending the campaign on 23 wins, 10 draws and 13 losses. That only tells half the story however, with the Wanderers sat in 19th position at the beginning of February, losing only three of their final 20 games to finish third.
Eoin Doyle was imperious in front of goal, Antoni Sarcevic offered creativity and spark from the middle of the park, whilst Ricardo Santos proved to be the signing of the summer at the back.
“I think [Ian] Evatt is getting pretty much full value from our players”, “Teams are now realising how good we are and that's a credit to Evatt and the players”, “Loved this quote from Evatt: ‘We are Bolton Wanderers, we don’t go anywhere to play for a draw it’s as simple as that’.”
Appointed in the summer of 2020, Evatt left recently promoted Barrow to join the new project at the University of Bolton Stadium. He struggled to pick up results in the first half of the season before masterminding an impressive turnaround from February.
“I like what Evatt is doing, he’s acknowledging and aware that we are a big club with big ambitions for where we are. And he’s instilling this within the players and throughout the club. It’s a confidence, belief and realism (not arrogance) for where we’re at and where we want to be”, “We've gone on a learning curve with Evatt; having to be patient at times but witnessing the benefit and the rewards”, “Evatt has said he wants it that way and for us to over-perform [this season].”
Evatt instilled a possession-based style when he arrived from Barrow which is very evident this year with the summer of playmaker Josh Sheehan. Evatt likes to play out from the back, asking his goalkeepers and centre-backs to be very comfortable on the ball.
“Think I love football again”, “Honestly feels like our club has a heart again. What a season. We absolutely deserve this. Beautiful”, “Can't get over how happy this has made me. I enjoyed the promotion back to the Championship however this feels special. The entire league looked at us as impostors and laughed when we were in 20th. To turn it round and go up is nothing short of miraculous.”
Bolton’s season looked to be over in February after a 1-1 home draw with Morecambe, leaving them in 19th place and staring down another season in League Two.
“Today was the most comfortable high-pressure game we’ve ever had I think. Well done one and all. Such a relief and so thoroughly deserved”, “Can I also say what an absolute journey this season has been in more ways than one, and it’s been great to share it on here, no matter how hard it has been to be watching it on telly every week”, “Brilliant Bolton, absolutely buzzing and can't wait for next season.”
Twenty games and 15 wins later, Bolton found themselves back in the third tier of English football after a stunning 4-1 victory away to Crawley Town. The turnaround was remarkable, and they will be looking to carry that momentum through this season as well.
Evatt’s enormous turnover before the League Two season was reduced this season. After bringing in around 30 players during the 2020/21 season, nine players entered the club this summer with a handful of players going the other way.
The two main departures were Arthur Gnahoua and Ryan Delaney, who both made the move to fellow League One side Morecambe. Numerous players were let go at the end of Bolton’s promotion campaign with the majority of them back-up talent.
Ali Crawford went back to Scotland, joining St Johnstone on loan for the season. Dennis Politic has recovered from his serious knee injury that cost him the entire promotion season and has subsequently moved to Port Vale on loan.
The entire starting XI from their 4-1 victory over Crawley Town on the final day of the 2020/21 season is still at the club, plus one of the substitutes.
In terms of squad strength, a lot of fans gave the defence credit for their role in the back end of last season. “Our strength last year was clean sheets, to get up this league that’s what we’ll need to do again if we want to get promoted”, “It's nice to have a stronger squad than recent years, four or five changes and it’s still a strong team”, “I actually think our strength in depth is pretty damn good for all positions this season, considering the level we're at.”
However, there are two key areas the fans are worried about. “Our set-piece play is still a real area of weakness for us, we never look very threatening and often results in wasting possession”, “Our strength in depth is where in my opinion we fall short. At least until January, I think we'll have to rely on being lucky with injuries”, “We are a newly promoted side with a strong looking 13/14 but perhaps less strength in depth than some of the teams who've been in League One longer.”
Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Burton Albion
“Agree with the generally positive comments, a pleasure to watch that performance, at least up to the penalty area”, “Very happy with the performance and like at Cambridge, on another day/another ref, we'll win comfortably when we take our chances... hopefully it will balance out over the season”, “Area for improvement: crossing/final ball, though this improved as the game wore on. Perhaps unsurprisingly as the opposite tire and aren't as effective at closing down.”
“I fully expected the flag to go up immediately and for the ref to then ignore it. None of it made any sense. Absolute incompetency”, “I can live with judgements on penalty shouts, but the disallowed goal smacked of a referee who doesn't know the laws of the game”, “Burton stuck nine behind the ball and the referee denied a good goal and a clear penalty.”
Bolton and Evatt made two changes from their last league fixture, a 1-0 defeat away to Cambridge United. Josh Sheehan was away on international duty with Wales with Kieran Lee stepping in. Declan John went down with an illness so Liam Gordon took his place at left-back.
Bolton Wanderers 3-2 Port Vale
“Quite enjoyed that. Though the fringe players again didn’t do too much to push their case forward”, “All over the place at the back here”, “All in all an overall good performance. Team minutes gained, goals scored, goals conceded, which give a training focus for the coaches to deal with and to top it off the run out for some [players] brings them that little bit closer to full first-team fitness.”
“Thought [Andrew] Tutte did pretty well. [Lloyd] Isgrove man of the match for me though”, “I like Thomason and it's a shame he doesn't get a look in. Always wanting the ball trying to make things happen. I like the energy he brings to the team”, “I was surprised that he did indeed go with Tutte and [George] Thomason though by account they worked well overall together, and obviously they were ring rusty.”
Bolton’s Papa John’s Trophy tie with Port Vale allowed them to rotate out some of their first-teamers. Back-up centre midfielders Tutte and Thomason came into the side, with Doyle, Nathan Delfouneso and Oladapo Afolayan on the scoresheet for the hosts.
“[Matthew] Gilks was great last season but I don’t think he is agile enough”, “Gilks worked wonders last year and was a coach on the pitch for the defence once he came in. He certainly doesn't deserve writing off just yet, but every single one of us knows he is time limited”, “From the evidence last week League One shots will come quicker and more accurate and Gilks has lost a little reaction speed.”
Gilks took the number one spot from Billy Crellin last season after the youngster’s poor start to the season and kept it through to the end. However, he looks to be playing back-up once again this year.
“I like [Joel] Dixon, he’s growing on me. Didn’t have much to do tonight but when called into action he made the save and did it comfortably. Distribution is first class”, “I feel very comfortable with Dixon between the sticks too, as does our defence the way they comfortably sprayed the ball about”, “Has emerged as our clear first -choice keeper after some shaky displays from the incumbent, Matt Gilks.”
Summer signing Dixon arrived from Barrow, someone that Ian Evatt knows personally from his time with the League Two side. He looks comfortable with the ball at his feet, and looks to be the number one this year.
“Declan John is starting to worry me in defence.” The Welsh full-back joined Bolton on loan last season from Swansea City, and has returned this year on a permanent deal for three years. “Great news about John signing and for three years too”, “Declan John would have made a difference I think ([Liam] Gordon played well but John’s much better going forward.)”
“Unlike others I have no issue playing the ball out from the back but once [Alex] Baptiste came on was less happy as he does not look comfortable doing it”, “I wouldn't have had Baptiste down as an Evatt type really, but in the second half of the season (after a poor first half) he became an integral part”, “[Will] Aimson and Baptiste weren't on top form.”
An experienced member of the dressing room, Baptiste formed a surprisingly solid partnership with Ricardo Santos at the back end of last season. However, with the arrival of George Johnston he looks to be the third-choice centre-back currently.
Will Aimson in action for former club Plymouth
“Could Ian Evatt have signed [Will Aimson] with defensive midfield in mind as I understand he has played there before?”, “Injury means we've been deprived of seeing this lad yet, but he's certainly got good experience”, “Bit-parter arguably best played in a back three.”
Another summer signing, Aimson made the switch from Plymouth Argyle to the University of Bolton Stadium this summer. Injury problems have prevented him from making his competitive debut so far.
“Santos and Johnston will be a formidable partnership”, “Santos and Johnston looked to complement each other absolute superbly as we hoped would be the case so hopefully that's the start of a promising partnership”, “Santos and Johnston struggled a lot first half and frankly it was at times shambolic defending.”
A standout performer for Wigan Athletic last season while on loan as the Latics pulled themselves away from the relegation zone, Johnston decided to move to Bolton Wanderers as his contract at Dutch side Feyenoord came to an end.
“[Liam] Gordon played well, second half he got a bit more adventurous and he looked better”, “Very, very steady. Wouldn't worry if we needed to play him again”, “I thought Gordon looked like he belonged tonight, and you can see his confidence building.”
A surprise member of Bolton’s first team, Gordon spent the second half of last season on loan at Dagenham & Redbridge after struggling to break into the Bolton first team. Will be battling John for the left-back spot this season.
“I really wanted [Harry] Brockbank to shine last night, who doesn't want a local lad breaking into the team and becoming one of our main players? Unfortunately, he really seemed to struggle down that right-hand side”, “Brockbank can play with his head up all he wants and needs to if we play out from the back”, “he looked a perfectly able right-back deputy to me.”
Academy product Brockbank has been with the club since 2005, making his debut in the Championship. A centre-back by trade, Brockbank has covered at right-back this season.
“Thought he was absolutely relentless from first minute to last whereas some others took a while to get into gear”, “Gets into a lot of great positions but his delivery was woeful yesterday”, “Gethin Jones was nothing short of abysmal in that department. Plenty of practice on the training ground required and hopefully we will be more effective.”
Another player signed in Bolton’s promotion season, Jones left Carlisle United to be the main right-back at the club. Has cemented his position this season, but does have a few areas of weakness in his game.
“Second half, thought Jones had best game I have seen him have, they targeted that side and he stood up to it, plus he got forward to help. Very happy and very impressed”, “Dapo was excellent but the one who really caught my eye the most was Jones, really put in an amazing shift”, “Jones needs some serious competition.”
On Monday night, Jones was seen as one of Bolton’s better players in their 0-0 draw with Burton Albion, connecting with Lloyd Isgrove very well.
“Our biggest concern at the moment is the poor form of Santos - he has lost confidence and can’t pass a ball over 10 metres at the moment”, “Santos pinging 60-yard cross-field balls is a joy to watch”, “Impressed with Santos, [someone] stated we'd be lucky to keep hold of him and looked a class above League One.”
Ricardo Santos holds off Crawley's Ashley Nadesan
One of the best centre-backs in League Two last season, Santos turned out to be a bargain buy from National League Barnet. Strong, quick and comfortable on the ball, Santos has the potential to go even higher in the game.
“Santos needs to improve his positioning when receiving the ball, he’s square on at times puts himself and the team under pressure, opposition teams will be onto that”, “Santos is critical because he heads a lot of stuff but also can stride out of the back four/three and that is fairly unique”, “I was more disappointed with Santos letting the striker get his shot away, than I was with Gilks not stopping it.”
However, he does have a few problem areas that he will need to work on if he is to make the jump in the future. He made quite a big mistake on Monday night that wasn’t capitalised on, with his positioning sometimes coming into question.
“[Antoni] Sarcevic was the match-winning difference, when you actually see and hear his intensity and focus it's frightening, he has that winning drive about him and was definitely ‘in the zone’, “Sarcevic looked a real captain, bursting everything to drive the team forward, just lacks that yard of sharpness at times that looks like the difference between a goal and a near miss”, “Didn't think he really got into the first two games and a bit anonymous tonight too.”
Sarcevic has won promotion out of League Two three times in the last three seasons with Bury, Plymouth Argyle and Bolton. He will need to take that impressive ability into League One this season as the creative spark just behind the striker.
“Yesterday really illustrated how important MJ [Williams] and Sarcevic are for us in the middle of the park”, “Williams was never a particularly fit or athletic player but his reading of the game, anticipation and accurate distribution made up for it”, “I think [Evatt] likes that MJ Williams can drop back in between the two centre-backs.”
Jordan Williams, or as he is sometimes known MJ Williams, was a winter signing just before Bolton’s stunning end-of-season form. He added some much-needed grit into the midfield, and looks to enjoy picking the ball up from the defence.
“Kieran Lee is such a good footballer. I get why Sarcevic starts but I'd love to see a proper look at him and Sheehan together”, “Kieran Lee looks the business at times but just doesn't have that scoring potential (for us)”, “Sheehan's a miss but we'll find out whether Lee makes us a bit more solid I guess.”
Another experienced member of the Bolton dressing room, Lee offers direct running and sharp passing from the centre of the pitch. Looks to be behind Sheehan for the playmaker option alongside Williams.
“For me, both Tutte and Thomason lack the physicality for the roles we need in League One.” Thomason arrived at Bolton Wanderers from non-league Longridge Town, then in the 10th tier of English football. “He's done very well since coming in and whilst needing more development he's one of [last] season's positives”, “Thomason and Tutte giving cover. I'm happy with that.”
“Tutte is composed and calm and keeps the tempo ticking over, works hard and gets tackles in”, “Tutte doesn't really fit the new midfield template (in which MJ is paramount) but is still worth having around”, “I think Tutte is a stop-gap until we look at midfield again in Jan or next summer.”
Signed from Morecambe last season, Tutte arrived to offer some much-needed depth to the midfield. He didn’t feature as much as he would have hoped, and looks to be further down the order this season.
“The gut reaction is to push [Brandon] Comley and Crawford nearer the door to make wage space and push for a game-changing forward signing”, “Plenty praising Comley’s performance at right-back. There’s something of a hole there if he wishes to fill it”, “Slightly disappointing not to bring anyone in at the end of the window and also not to move Comley on.”
Another centre midfielder on the books, Comley looks to be heading out the door at some point this season. With a handful of players in front of him, don’t be surprised to see him make a move in January.
“Afolayan was a genuine threat but our only proper one”, “We had a taster of the quality Dapo has in the second half of last season, but since signing for us permanently he's really stepped it up. I will go as far as saying he's one of the best players in the division and someone we might struggle to keep hold of if we don't get promoted at the first time of asking”, “Dapo Afolayan is quite good at football.”
Another loanee-turned-permanent, Afolayan impressed the higher-ups at Bolton last season with his dynamic displays and direct running. He looks to be the club’s biggest threat going forward this season. Will need to be wary of him.
“Lots of talk that we are signing Xavier Amaechi on loan”, “Another we haven't seen yet, but he has the pedigree to be a game-changer”, “Amaechi and [Amadou] Bakayoko seem to be big misses and I would like to think that we'd be looking to cover the gap whilst they recover.”
Loanee Amaechi arrived at the University of Bolton Stadium with much fanfare after his temporary switch from German side Hamburger SV. The former Arsenal youth talent looks to be an impressive signing from the League One outfit, but injuries have prevented him from making his senior bow.
“I love [Isgrove], he may not be the best player but he makes up for that with 100 per cent commitment and a terrier-like attitude”, “I'm amazed that anyone thinks Isgrove was anything less than superb”, “I genuinely think Isgrove could do a job [at right-back], but only if we can replace him further forward, which is where some loanee legs might have helped.”
Isgrove only started 21 games for Bolton last season, but looks to be a key member of the first team this season after Ameachi’s injury and Delfouneso’s poor form.
“Isgrove is vastly underrated. We are a far better team with him in it”, “His movement is literally how we played so well. He’s making us tick coming off the line and playing”, “His passing/positioning not great.”
He added tenacity and drive in the Burton game, causing Tom Hamer issues on the right flank for the majority of the game. Looks to have built a strong partnership with Jones.
“Sheehan was head and shoulders above the rest proper football brain always looking to pass-and-move forward”, “Sheehan is a deep-lying midfielder, very much a passer, also a good dribbler/runner; he's less good on the defensive side of it ("not the most physically imposing"), but evidence suggests he will give it a go”, “Maybe Sheehan was a bigger miss [against Burton Albion] - his shooting outside the area and set pieces might have added more than Lee.”
Josh Sheehan playing for Wales against USA
Sheehan was one of the best players in League Two last season playing for Newport County as they made their way to Wembley, before falling to Morecambe. He completed the most passes of any midfielder in the league last year and looks to be finding League One comfortable as well.
“I personally thought Sheehan ran the show for us [against Cambridge United] in the second half, threaded loads of good passes to the wingers and plenty of runs at their defence”, “Sheehan looks an excellent pro and clearly very good at League Two level. Not sure he improves the first XI though”, “John and Sheehan are losses, but we should be able to cope well enough without them.”
Everyone knows the kind of player Sheehan is. He will sit in front of the defence, spraying passes across the pitch. His long passing is exceptional and he will rarely make a mistake with the ball. Could be an important signing for Bolton this season.
“Regarding Delfouneso, I thought he started last season well but he seemed to get worse as the season progressed”, “Delfouneso shouldn’t have been anywhere near the team tonight in my opinion let alone taking a penalty”, “Delfouneso played well for 10 minutes now he’s disappeared.”
Nathan Delfouneso scores against Carlisle
Another player with valuable experience in the Bolton dressing room, Delfouneso has history in the Premier League with Aston Villa. He played off the right a lot last season, but looks to be behind Isgrove as it stands.
“[Elias] Kachunga clearly not making an impact yet and anyway is more of a wide player than striker”, “Kachunga may come good but right now he just doesn't seem to fit”, “Kachunga however should have buried that header in the six-yard box near the end all he had to do was direct the cross into the net.”
One of the more impressive signings in League One this season, Kachunga has flattered to deceive so far. With 39 Premier League appearances to his name, Kachunga’s career has fallen away since Huddersfield’s promotion to the top flight. He now finds himself in League One, but hasn’t shown much to overthrow Doyle or Afolayan yet.
“Bakayoko would have made a difference up top, a bit of pace and power running directly at them”, “We’ve got a Doyle replacement, he’s called Amadou Bakayoko”, Amaechi and Bakayoko are "both expected to be side-lined until October at the earliest”.
Summer signing Bakayoko, on paper, looks to be a very good signing from previous club Coventry City. The strong attacker scored 11 goals across two seasons for the Sky Blues in League One, so knows the league well. However, his past year wasn’t very good and he is also dealing with an injury.
“Doyle is a good player when he has space but for me lacks the slickness in enclosed spaces”, “Doyle himself admits he’s not good in the air, he isn’t a target man and doesn’t hold up the ball to bring others into play”, “I never actually said he didn’t work hard, just that he was ineffective. Personally, I don’t want him running all over tiring himself out.”
Like Sarcevic, Doyle has earned himself a reputation as being too good for League Two. He scored 25 goals for Swindon Town in the 2019/20 season, before picking up 21 last season for Bolton. He doesn’t have much of a record in League One, so will be interesting to see how the 33-year-old will perform.
“I can't help thinking that if Doyle had stayed on we'd have had a better chance of winning”, “I like Doyle, and in a team playing to his strengths believe he’ll do well but I’m just not sure we are doing that at the moment”, “We're a very good side but somehow Doyle is not thriving.”
Doyle prefers to run the channels than be a target man and that was how he has picked up most of his goals over the last few seasons. He had two very easy chances on Monday night which he didn’t take, which is one of the worries Bolton fans have - if he doesn’t score then the rest of the team might struggle.
Bolton Wanderers fans on ITFC
“Ipswich look like the team who has ‘bought the league”, “Looks like Ipswich mean business this season”, “I'd like to avoid Ipswich, Portsmouth and Charlton away. Three long journeys against sides I'd expect to be really strong”, “At least we’ve got Ipswich away on Saturday where we can cleanse ourselves and find solace in that there’s no history of shocking refereeing performances.”
“No one will ever convince me [the 2000 play-off semi-final second leg] wasn't fixed. Their chairman [David] Sheepshanks had also been chairman of the Football League and was on all sorts of football committees, he was in effect [referee Barry] Knight's boss and it had been decided Ipswich were going through”, “I still think Knight was bent though and Sheepshanks probably had a word in his ear, given he changed the away goals rule after it put them out twice in a row.”
“The expectation has been raised arguably to unrealistic levels. I came into the season reasonably expecting nice a dull mid-table safety. And I think a lot of Bolton fans expect us to be challenging the bigger sides right at the top with the money”, “I don’t agree with those who consider that finishing mid-table would be a good result. Most of the teams in League One are little better than those of last year so if we can find someone to finish the chances we create, we should have no problems finishing in the top six.”
Bolton Wanderers are the first team this season to have multiple forums to source and read through. The two main ones used are The Wanderer and Wanderers Ways, whilst you can also find little bits of information at Trotters Forever and Bolton Nuts.
Photo: Action Images
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