Phil Parkinson had come in for criticism for a line-up perceived by many as too defensive in midweek at the Riverside but the team-sheet hurriedly passed to the referee an hour before kick-off was anything but.
With defensive axis of David Wheater and Mark Beevers dropped for the first time in the manager’s two-and-a-half-year tenure, Erhun Oztumer added for creative spark in the midfield, and two wingers in Craig Noone and Will Buckley, the idea was clearly to go for the jugular against an Ipswich team looking vulnerable at the bottom of the table.
But you know what they say about best laid plans, and just as Bolton seemed to be getting their act together, Marc Wilson’s red card 34 minutes into the first half prompted Parkinson to rip up and start again.
Oztumer was sacrificed and with him went a lot of Wanderers’ momentum.
It is unfair to say they hung on for that would assume Ipswich were exerting any meaningful pressure. Bolton instead coped quite comfortably.
The one and only moment a point was in doubt came 10 minutes before the end when Ben Alnwick made a stunning save to push away Luke Chambers’ flick from close range.
Yet Wanderers also had moments to snatch a goal – Wheater, on as a sub, had a goal-bound shot blocked and another replacement, Yanic Wildschut, so nearly broke through right at the bitter end.
Ipswich were no more deserving of three points than Bolton. Paul Hurst is trying to blood a number of lower league signings at once, and it shows. Anything other than a season of struggle would be a surprise on this evidence.
The same accusation has been levelled at Wanderers in recent weeks, and tepid displays against QPR and Boro gave critics all the ammunition they desired.
This, however, was the kind of midfield hustle we saw earlier in the season. If intensity had been lacking in the first half at the Riverside, here it was evident by the bucketful.
Noone and Buckley led the way. Their lung-bursting effort ensured the man disadvantage was rarely felt and that Josh Magennis – another man whose graft on the day was impressive – never looked completely isolated.
Wilson’s sending off was a pivotal moment. The Republic of Ireland international gave chase to the jet-heeled Kayden Jackson after a rare Ipswich break and seemed to make some contact half a yard outside the box. Whether it was enough to warrant the dramatic flop that followed is another story.
Referee Stephen Martin did at least spot the offence had happened outside the area but in issuing a red card, he made sure Wilson joined the likes of Ivan Campo and Paul Ritchie in getting his marching orders on his first league start for the club.
Oztumer can consider himself very unlucky – and one can only hope Parkinson sees some of the good work he did in the opening half hour and gives him another platform soon. Though far less easy on the eye after the little playmaker had departed the scene, it was pleasing to see thereafter that the snap had returned in midfield.
Jason Lowe and Joe Williams worked diligently to snuff out Ipswich attacks before they got started, helped, it must be said, by some truly uninspired football from the home team.
When Jonathan Walters stepped off the bench as Ipswich’s third sub of the day midway through the second half, the scene appeared set for him to play villain once again.
A one-time Bolton player who has developed a penchant for scoring against his former club, the striker lasted just a few minutes before catching his studs in the turf and limping off, leaving both sides to play the remainder of the game with 10 men.
For all Ipswich’s wayward shooting, Alnwick had hardly been a spectator, coming for a number of crosses which suggest he has stepped up a level this season. But the save he made from Chambers was the only time he can have been truly worried about losing a third clean sheet of the campaign.
Captain for the day in Wheater and Vela’s absence, the keeper was surprised to have been passed the armband as the coach pulled in late to the car park.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” he said. “We had a lot of traffic getting here and was sat at the back of the bus and the keeper coaching shouted on ‘get off, you need to do the team-sheets.’ I’m sat there thinking ‘what’s he talking about?’ “Obviously once I realised, I was over the moon. It’s a massive achievement for me to be able to lead the lads out.”
Wanderers seem to be at their best with a bit of adversity – be it 10 men or traffic problems. And Alnwick rather likes it that way.
“I prefer it – I’d get to a game later whenever I could,” he said.
“Sometimes when you are a little bit rushed, on the hoof, get your boots on and get out I think it’s better. That’s what we did there and there was no airs or graces, we just rolled up our sleeves and got on with it.”
You fear Wanderers may need more to compete with Derby County next week but nevertheless if Parkinson’s side can replicate the same sort of hunger in front of their own fans it would be a significant step forward.
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