Evatt Has to Abandon His Principles - Notes for Bolton Wanderers
Friday, 14th Jan 2022 15:00 by TomTheWriter
Kieran McKenna’s perfect start as Town manager continued at Gillingham last week and, as he looks to extend that on Saturday at Bolton, TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.
After a successful trip to Kent last week, Ipswich’s attention turns to another away trip in League One.
Their opponents, Bolton Wanderers, have struggled over the last few months and have fallen away from the play-offs after a fast start.
This season, Oladapo Afolayan has been electric and dangerous out wide, MJ Williams has held the midfield together with Ricardo Santos providing power and strength from the back.
“[Manager Ian] Evatt has spoken about the need to transform the side with youth, energy and running”, “We're unlikely to get one who can do everything you want plus everything that Evatt wants”, “Evatt's system is breaking down for a number of reasons and they all add up to make us crap.”
Having gained promotion out of League Two last season through the automatic places, Evatt had been tasked with making his side competitive in the third tier this year and after the first few months of the season, it looked like they would be challenging for the play-offs.
However, it hasn’t been plain-sailing over the past few months, with performance levels dropping slightly and injuries beginning to build up. With star attackers Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic both leaving recently, they will need to reinvest in the winter window.
“If Evatt stubbornly refuses to balance the qualities needed then it will be very frustrating if we drop for a lack of some who can physically compete”, “We've probably done this to death, but I imagine that if Evatt could move a couple on and fetch in some improvements he'd happily do so”, “Evatt will have to take any criticism coming his way if we get rid of players without signing replacements.”
The State of Play
“For a promoted side I think we'd need a better keeper, centre-half, centre midfielder and striker than we already have”, “As above I think we’ve got some players good enough for League One but not good enough for the roles we are asking them to play or the combinations we need”, “I think we do have a number of players who simply aren’t League One standard or, to be fair, aren’t in the side we have.”
As it stands, Bolton find themselves in 18th place in League One, with seven wins, five draws and 12 defeats from their 24 games.
“Football results are almost entirely based on how good you are at two ends of the pitch. And I fear we are focusing a lot at being good between the two boxes but I question where our ability to score and or keep goals out is improving”, “Hopefully the two central midfield signings will mean [George] Thomason can go out on loan, he isn’t up to it”, “I no longer have a clue what our first team will be.”
The Trotters sit eight places and nine points below Town heading into the fixture on Saturday, with a victory over the hosts helping the Blues keep touch with the play-off contenders.
Currently, in the Bolton squad, they have a strong selection of strikers to choose from with new signing Dion Charles added to the ranks alongside Amadou Bakayoko and Elias Kachunga.
Their weakest area had been their midfield with summer signing Josh Sheehan out for a while with an injury, meaning they have had to make do with only a handful of midfielders for the last few months.
Strength-wise, Bolton fans have found little to be positive about this season, especially in the recent weeks.
“A lot of strength in depth for three positions”, “Evatt has to abandon his principles find a side who can be drilled to sit deeper, soak up pressure and use our strength in the front three to hit on the break”, “Set pieces are our strength.”
However, on the other hand, they have found a few things to be negative about this season.
“The issue is playing staff and not coaching staff”, “Our defence is porous, our attack is inefficient, and our midfield… well, if it's still featuring Thomason and [Nathan] Delfouneso in February, I fear for us”, “They punish our weakness while the lower teams pass up opportunities. It’s not one player. Collectively we defend badly.”
Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Wycombe Wanderers
“Charles can’t play up front on his own. That much was obvious tonight. He looks a bright player but he’s not a striker in this system. With partner, sure”, “I thought tonight was at times promising and disastrous. If we keep playing exactly like that we will go down”, “We're not good on set pieces that's not ideal but even if that isn't being worked on then surely the pass and move stuff is.”
“We’ve had a lot of the ball in the opposition half tonight against a Wycombe team sitting in third. The barometer is set pieces and being clinical. Sort that out and we'll be well on our way”, “We need bodies in and back fit asap because too many of those aren't good enough”, “Attitude is terrible at the moment. Obviously, confidence is a big factor, but you don't get given anything, you have fight and be brave on and off the ball.”
Bolton’s first home game in six weeks saw them host high-flying Wycombe Wanderers as they were on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline. New signings Charles and Marlon Fossey started.
Hartlepool United 1-0 Bolton Wanderers
In their Papa John’s Trophy match with Hartlepool United, Bolton faltered in the second half to lose 1-0 after a terrible mistake from their goalkeeper Joel Dixon.
“Couldn't care less about this daft tournament but that is a worrying result and performance”, “Disgusting second half performance topped off by a terrible mistake”, “We need to deviate from the game plan that’s putting unnecessary pressure at the back and put it into areas where we can be threatening without all the build-up.”
“Brand Evatt is becoming slow, tedious, boring and very predictable football”, “Same usual Evatt performance and tactics slow, low tempo, boring sideways & backwards passing, leaderless on the pitch with the usual disgraceful set pieces”, “This team looks like they are coached by non-league coaches...then again they are!”
“It's just too many of your back-up singers trying to do lead vocals. I also think Dixon falls into this category”, “Dixon isn't good enough”, “The mistake by Dixon is somewhat masking the fact our first team couldn’t break down Hartlepool’s reserves.”
Bolton’s number one this season, Dixon has been tasked with pushing Bolton further up the table with their possession-based style of football. Sometimes it pays off, but has also led to some calamitous goals.
With Matt Gilks taking up a coaching role within the club recently, Evatt set out to find a new goalkeeper to challenge Dixon.
Manchester City keeper James Trafford had spent the first part of the season on loan at Accrington Stanley, before making the switch to Bolton for the rest of the season.
“Trafford strikes me as the right sort we should be signing, good potential, education etc. But, he's got 11 senior games under his belt, after which he was dropped”, “He may be a fantastic young keeper with a great career ahead of him, but surely we need an older, more experienced keeper to take over the number one spot not a youngster”, “Obviously I wish Trafford well for him as well as us, but it does seem a bit like reckless doubling down by Evatt. If it goes wrong, I hope it's him who gets the flak, not the young lad.”
“The youth team now will have access to our analytics, our player data, our player clips, so they can show our young players what Gethin Jones does at right-back”, “I live in hope that with Jones due to come back into contention this month and new right-backs linked we will become a little more resilient”, “Whoever has played there this season other than Jones isn't up to it.”
Full-back Jones had been missing for a couple of months until Tuesday night, returning to action for the first time since the middle of October. Will have strong competition from new singing Fossey.
“Fossey deserves another game, for me. His pace might also push their left wing-back backwards”, “Fossey apparently turned down other offers to come here, including from the MLS. Fair play to the kid”, “Fossey has been playing regularly for Fulham's U23s.”
The second of three new signings for Bolton this window, Fossey has joined on loan from Fulham for the rest of the season. Adds some depth to the right-hand side, and looked promising against Wycombe.
“Harry Brockbank has been awful since coming on”, “I really root for the lad, as I did Brockbank, but they haven't got it”, “Harry Brockbank will always be warmly regarded by Bolton fans. However, if he is to become a footballer rather than a mascot he might need to recalibrate.”
Young defender Brockbank made his way back into the side after Jones’s injury in October, but only featured on a few occasions. Looks to be in the background after Fossey’s signing.
“My suspicion, though, is that we will see [George] Johnston a lot. There's an investment there that we won't give up on lightly”, “I said on signing them that Johnston and [Will] Aimson worried me as centre-half recruits and it’s transpired exactly thus”, “Johnston maybe, but even he is limited and a poor man’s [Tim] Ream, who also was a myth.”
Picked up in the summer, Johnston has been a regular fixture in the defence this season, whilst also being utilised in the midfield on occasion.
“For the goal Aimson got fouled at least once”, “If Aimson didn't have a 20p head we'd have actually scored one”, “The headed clearance from Aimson in the second half was incredible and rescued a point.”
Having missed the majority of the first few months of the season due to injury, Aimson has been a constant fixture over the last month or so, pushing Johnston into the midfield.
“That back four essentially was held together by [Alex] Baptiste’s experience”, “Baptiste is shocking under pressure. You can see with his body language he doesn't like the passing round the back”, “Baptiste is now a walking humiliation when played out wide.”
Senior defender Baptiste was a key member of Bolton’s League Two side last season, but has dropped behind the new defensive signings. Hasn’t featured in the last three games.
“Would be nice to get [Liam] Gordon on here. [Adam] Senior hasn't been bad but I think Gordon could offer something to our attack”, “Fully expecting him to come in and be even worse than Gordon, of course”, “I’d be surprised if it isn’t Gordon continuing.”
Guyana international Gordon has been in and out of the first-team picture all season, having been the first point of call if there was an injury to one of the full-backs.
“Signing a left-back that can do just one of; tackle, block crosses, win headers, pass forwards, tackle, cross or ideally tackle would be a massive improvement on the absolute disaster that is Declan John”, “Have we written off John after half a season, much of which he's missed through injury?”, “John I’d say is capable but hasn’t hit form this season.”
Picked up from Swansea in the summer, John has been Bolton’s main full-back this season, having notched four assists.
“John's end product was diabolical”, “Crossing poor, passing off and had a chance he should have done better with as well”, “Neither Jones nor John stop enough balls coming into the box.”
Having not missed any of the last 15 games, John looks likely to be the starting left-back on Saturday against Ipswich.
“Where [Ricardo] Santos is different to a Gerry Taggart/Colin Hendry in that he's not a vocal organiser”, “Santos has looked good for half a season last time. Then an absolute donkey for the first half or last season and this season”, “We can make Santos penalty taker.”
Imperious defender Santos has started all but six of Bolton’s games this season, forming solid partnerships with both Johnston and Aimson.
“People slating Santos off the back of that game can jog on, he played well”, “Think the panicky moments were early on, not that Santos is helping with that, seems to want to dribble out when the striker is too close”, “Santos is absolute garbage. Let’s stop pretending. A weak, soft mistake-ridden defender.”
Scorer of the own goal in the 5-2 thrashing of Ipswich back in September, Santos has been tasked with being comfortable on the ball in the defence and start the majority of attacks.
“We signed [Josh] Sheehan because it's vital we have that range of passing and control in midfield”, “For example, it’s hard to judge Sheehan when he’s obviously needing some protection in midfield yet hasn’t had any”, “We need more, but you're acting like every player we have signed is Sheehan's build.”
Snapped up in the summer, Sheehan had the makings of being one of the best midfielders in League One this season. However, an ACL injury against Stockport County has ruled him out for the rest of the season.
“Midfield reinforcement will come too late for this one, although [Kieran] Lee should be back alongside Williams”, “I think it’s a stretch to suggest both players would be better than Lee immediately”, “Someone who can do Lee’s role but with more emphasis on physicality and covering ground.”
Experienced midfielder Lee immediately swooped in and took over Sheehan’s role in the midfield after his injury, having previously been in and out of the first-team picture. Now a key member of the midfield three.
“Some recently created Twitter account (Trotters_Talk) claims Thomason will join Stockport on a free in the summer”, “I’d be disappointed if he’s not given a chance especially considering how many chances the woeful Thomason has had”, “Thomason, he doesn’t hide but he was well schooled last night by some pretty poor opposition.”
Starting the season as a cup midfielder, Thomason has started the last 10 games in all competitions, but has only one goal for the season. Usually found in the number 10 role, he has competition from Ronan Darcy for the spot.
“If [Aaron] Morley stops teams bullying us then great. If he adds the power we lack then great. If not, then how are we going to compete in this league?”, “Morley’s fine, he’s played most games this season”, “In Morley we now have someone who can deliver a set ball.”
The most recent winter signing for the Trotters, Morley has switched League Two Rochdale for Bolton and will adds some composure to a midfield that has been struggling since Sheehan’s injury.
“Even emergency man [Lloyd] Isgrove has missed multiple games”, “Only place I'd disagree is Isgrove. I think we've missed his versatility and industry”, “[Dennis] Politic, on loan at Port Vale, is not as good as Isgrove at the moment who is unfortunately injured.”
Welsh winger Isgrove has been utilised all along the right-hand side of the pitch, being asked to fill in at right-back when Jones got injured. Has missed the last seven games due to injury.
“Where was Xavier [Ameachi]? Sleep walking up field when Gordon delayed the attacker”, “I'm happy Dapo, Amaechi and Kachunga are good enough”, “It would be interesting to know if there's the idea of taking a look at him to make it permanent in the summer. Same with Amaechi. I'd like to know what the plan is.”
A long-term injury absentee at the beginning of the season, Ameachi returned to fitness in November for his first Bolton appearance. Had a run of games off the bench and in the starting XI, but has missed the last three games.
“With Afolayan last season you could see he was on the verge of scoring quite a few and it was only a matter of frequency and marginal gains”, “Apart from Dapo, we clearly lack any other goalscorers”, “Dapo has plenty of potential resale value, as does anyone who we sign on a free.”
Star player this season, Afolayan was imperious in the early months of the campaign coming off the left wing. Scored twice and won the penalty against Town earlier in the season, Afolayan will be looking to cause more damage against the Blues.
“Dapo is 24. Hardly someone you can consider a youth talent. He’s in the prime years of a footballer’s career”, “As you observed elsewhere (and I think someone else mentioned in October), teams know to cut Dapo off”, “No merit in Dapo beating three and hitting the corner flag.”
Looking at the stats above, he leads the way in a number of categories for a left winger: completed dribbles, most often fouled per 90, shots and shots per 90. He is their most dangerous attacker, but hasn’t found the net since the beginning of November.
“We all agree that MJ Williams is one of our best players, but the consensus amongst Rochdale and Blackpool fans seems to be that they think he's rubbish”, “Next to Williams, who is a defender, I think he'd be able to do more of what he does well”, “Williams isn't some vaunted technician, he's just of a high standard for his position at this level.”
Sometimes known as Jordan Williams, MJ has been Bolton’s most consistent performer this season, usually seen doing the defensive duties in the middle of the park.
“A midfield of Delfouneso, Thomason and Williams should be good enough for a team in 15th, one division down”, “When Wycombe went at us, Williams fell into the defence and we were a five”, “I'm concerned about Lee and Williams's ability to make it through the second half without fading.”
One key issue Bolton fans have had over the last few months is the midfield pairings due to Sheehan’s injury. The introduction of Morley should make them more dynamic and Williams will need to step up his game to help them push forward.
“Dion Charles will score one in three or better”, “Prime age, known to have a bit of an attitude, good off both feet and a bit of a terrier”, “I don't at all understand at all understand why people are comparing Charles to Doyle's record from several years ago. He hasn't been signed to replace Doyle from several years ago, he's been signed to replace Doyle now, who's got two goals from open play.”
The first winter signing that Bolton made was Charles, who was on the verge of moving to the Championship in the summer - Nottingham Forest had been strongly linked - before everything fell apart. Had been left out by Accrington since August and will be hoping to kick his career back into shape.
“Always been happy to see him given an extra chance and he's not delivered”, “Would surely mean curtains for Delf, though. In an ideal world we'd see another striker and wide option come in and really kick us on”, “Evatt has to face up to winning games potentially with Delf up front our only option.”
Experienced attacker Delfouneso was key in their promotion hunt last season, but has found game-time hard to come by this season. Heavily used off the bench in most matches, he hasn’t found the net in his 14 appearances.
“I suspect Bakayoko is in the squad as the ‘point of difference’”, “I thought Kachunga and Bakayoko have both looked at their best through the middle”, “The other end is harder to sort out. Doyle and Bakayoko are both seriously lacking in this league and I think we can improve without breaking the bank.”
Billed as a steal in the summer when he joined after leaving Coventry, Bakayoko has struggled to find consistency this season, starting only eight games. Has three goals and one assist to his name and will be hoping for a strong second half of the season.
“Elias for me is not likely to solve our goalscoring problems”, “If we assess Kachunga as a signing and one Evatt mentioned as being a top target I’d say that I’m not overly enthused”, “Good sort. Works hard but struggling to see what he adds.”
Another impressive signing from the summer, Kachunga performed in the Premier League with Huddersfield only a few years previously. Started slowly but has picked up recently, with four goals and three assists.
“Kachunga isn't [Lionel] Messi, but his technical game is good enough for his work rate and other qualities to work for us”, “Both Baka and Kachunga have a better conversion rate than Doyle”, “Kachunga exists to make things happen in the system rather than to post numbers.”
Kachunga had actually featured in every single Bolton game this season before being absent for the Wycombe fixture having suffered a long-term thigh injury which will keep him out until April.
Bolton Wanderers Fans on ITFC
“When we grubbed them, I think we'd only lost one and were happy recipients of the promotion bounce. They’ve changed gaffer since then too and improved a lot”, “I don’t fancy playing Ipswich in a game where they sit in and wait for their chances. I’d rather use our front three which I listed which has pace and direct running in them to hit spaces that they leave behind”, “Crazy to think Ipswich are six points ahead of us after their start and our thumping of them. Football really does change quite quickly”, “I see Ipswich got shot of Paul Cook while his assistant in his previous job [Leam Richardson] is top of the league with his [Wigan] side.”
Last Time Out - Ipswich Town 2-5 Bolton Wanderers
“Attack-wise, we made much better choices. Ipswich being more open than, say, Cambridge or Burton helped but our tempo was quicker and we weren't afraid to go long and forwards when the chance arose”, “Defensively there's work to do obviously but what a journey we're on”, “Ipswich showed exactly what happens if you open up against us and I guess teams are watching, so expect more to do what Burton did.”
“Ipswich will probably have gone in at the break feeling like they could get back into it. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot at the back, but at this level and with the mix of players we have that will happen until they get that cohesion going”, “[Macauley] Bonne looks a good signing the rest of the squad just aren't playing as they should”, “Cook's no mug, the board have backed him. Stick. For now.”
In the 5-2 drubbing of the Blues earlier in the season, Bolton lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation, and tore through an Ipswich side that were very open and aggressive. Will be interesting to see how McKenna plays against them.
Photo: Matchday Images
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