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BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 1-2 QPR

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IT was the type of game Eddie Davies will have witnessed many times from the Wanderers directors’ box.
Poor start, grumbling crowd, a team seemingly devoid of attacking ideas, which suddenly clicks into gear and leaves everyone wondering why it had seemed such a chore from the beginning.

Phil Parkinson’s side simply left themselves with too much to do after falling two goals down within an hour. Once the Bolton boss had loosened the constraints and given debutant Christian Doidge some extra support, Josh Magennis’s free-kick briefly looked to have signalled a comeback charge.

Alas, it was not to be. Even with total control of the ball in the latter stages Wanderers lacked the craft and guile their opponents had shown on the break to edge themselves ahead.
Be it with Eberechi Eze, Angel Rangel or Luke Freeman, Steve McClaren’s side seemed to possess sharp blades, whereas Bolton looked decidedly blunt.

This had been a taxing week for all involved and at times the atmosphere around the stadium felt hollow.
There had been a warm round of applause for Davies prior to kick-off - with pockets of supporters even chanting his name - and captain, David Wheater, laid a small floral tribute. A single red rose was also placed in the former owner’s seat, which he had inhabited for the vast majority of home games since he became majority stakeholder in 2003. An understated tribute, perhaps, considering his impact at the club but then the publicity-shy former Farnworth Grammar School lad would not have appreciated fuss.

Of course, Davies’s passing had been only part of the emotional ride for Bolton fans this week and the club’s brush with administration also took its toll. Though Parkinson dismissed the effect such distractions had on his players’ performance, it is difficult to see how the situation would have had anything other than a negative impact.

Wanderers did not help themselves, however, and though Parkinson made two changes from the side which had drawn at Preston North End, it was his midfield balance which came under most scrutiny.

Doidge came in for a difficult debut against QPR’s two physical centre-halves, Joel Lynch and Toni Leistner. The former Forest Green striker suffered from a lack of chronic lack of support at times, so it was difficult to judge how well he will fare at this level.

With the combative rather than creative trio of Jason Lowe, Gary O’Neil and Joe Williams in the middle of the park, Parkinson’s plan had been for his wide men – namely Sammy Ameobi and Craig Noone – to get up and beyond Doidge when Wanderers had possession. But the chronic lack of movement at times left the home side looking rather toothless.

Youngster Williams failed to have the same impact on the game he did at Deepdale and though Lowe and O’Neil worked hard to close down, their work in possession lacked a touch of urgency.

Ameobi damaged ankle ligaments in an off-the-ball incident about 20 minutes in and though he tried to soldier on, Yanic Wildschut was soon called up from the bench and fared little better.

QPR had already cut through once, Nakhi Wells charging through a chasm in the middle of Bolton’s defence to slip a shot past Ben Alnwick, only for David Wheater to get back on the line and clear.
The warning signs were not heeded, though, and a quick counter from Freeman – capitalising on Grounds being caught out of position – saw him exchange passes with Wells and turn home a low cross at the near post.

Only towards the very end of the half did Wanderers get a sight of goal, as Wildschut’s low cross found its way to Noone, who could not get his shot on target.
Things hardly picked up after the break and on the hour, QPR grabbed a second. Pawel Olkowski – though excellent on the day – joined Gary O’Neil and Wheater in failing to halt Jake Bidwell and Freeman’s progress on the left and when his bouncing cross came in, Grounds’ weak attempt at a clearance allowed Eze to nip in ahead and slide the ball inside the post. 

To that point, there was little positive to say about Bolton’s performance. But once Magennis was thrown on alongside Doidge, things started to happen.
The Northern Irishman commandeered a free-kick won by his strike partner barely 10 minutes after coming on and drove it through both the wall and keeper Joe Lumley to register a fourth goal of the season.

Sound levels around the ground suddenly started to pick up. The swashbuckling Olkowski tested Lumley’s reflexes with a long-ranger and there was a new-found belief a point could be rescued. 

Erhun Oztumer also added a bit of forward momentum when he came on, Wanderers switching to 3-4-1-2, and could have grabbed an equaliser with a half-volley skewed wide from just inside the penalty box. 

The urgency had arrived too late this time and there was to be no late drama. QPR cleverly ate up the remaining minutes to register their second win and their first away from home since March.

Parkinson is unlikely to change his system for the forthcoming trips to Middlesbrough or Ipswich but will certainly have to fine-tune by the time his team comes back to the University of Bolton Stadium to face Derby County at the end of the month. 

Striking the right balance between defensive solidity and attacking intent has been a perennial issue at home but with Ameobi facing a number of weeks on the side-lines Wanderers will need a different game-plan.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
If he was on a player rating chart he'd be Groundzero.

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