Defeat to Brentford was the latest in a long chain of identikit performances, played out by a team suspended in Championship purgatory.
Week upon week, the same assessments can be made. A team which works hard but lacks quality. A noble manager struggling desperately to inspire. An owner who has sustained a club but has not enriched it.
Nobody should escape responsibility for what is going on right now. But without changing at least one of those factors then there simply is no other logical outcome other than relegation to League One in May.
Brentford had themselves been on a horrendous run of one win in 16, and yet their consistent desire to push forward was refreshing. Their attacking football was rewarded in Neal Maupay’s 62nd minute effort, his 14th of the season.
The contrast with Wanderers’ timid, conservative style was striking. Phil Parkinson employed a 4-3-3 formation but with Sammy Ameobi and Will Buckley having little to no creative impact on the game, an overtly-defensive midfield trio of Gary O’Neil, Jason Lowe and Marc Wilson were left picking up the pieces.
The game-plan had been to get crosses into the box, giving Christian Doidge something to feed upon, but the quality of ball was too often lacking.
Official stats say there were 29 crosses into the Brentford area over 90 minutes, although only a few really stand out in the memory. And, once again, the statistic which most accurately sums up Wanderers’ problems in the solitary shot they put on target.
O’Neil – probably Bolton’s busiest and productive player on the day and starting his first game since October 20 – went as close as anyone in the first half with a deflected strike which dipped just over David Bentley’s bar.
Brentford were spurred on by the busy Algerian attacker, Said Benrahma, who consistently kept Wanderers on their toes around the penalty box. His invention, alongside the movement of Ollie Watkins on the opposite flank, ensured there was a consistent attacking threat, albeit few cast iron opportunities created.
David Wheater and Jack Hobbs kept Maupay under wraps and Ben Alnwick only had routine saves to make for the first 45 minutes despite the nagging feeling that Wanderers had been on the back foot for long spells.
Both Benrahma and Watkins flashed shots at goal after intricate play around the penalty box – the football on show from the home side bearing very little correlation to their league position or current form.
The Whites showed a brief flurry of intent before the interval to allow a modicum of frustration to seep into the home support, Buckley flickering into life on the left. Sadly, it was not sustained.
Whatever momentum Bolton had created before the interval ebbed quickly away and as Brentford started to edge the midfield battle, the tide was only going one way.
Just past the hour, Ricoh Henry got in behind Pawel Olkowski and his header across the box allowed Benrahma to prod a pass into Maupay’s path, allowing the Frenchman to lash a brilliant effort into the top corner. There were appeals for offside – although it looked minimal at best.
Wanderers found themselves in a familiar position, needing to muster a response. Yet with the more obvious attacking options of Erhun Oztumer and Yanic Wildschut sat in the stands, Parkinson turned to the industry of Craig Noone to try and bail his side out of trouble.
To the winger’s credit, he made the most of his 20 minutes, going close with one angled shot at the end of a mazy run.
Josh Magennis had joined in a four-man attack by the end, yet the signal to take the fight to the hosts felt like it had come too late in the day.
Brentford lacked the calmness to stretch their advantage as the game opened up. Indeed, the Bees’ struggles this season appear to have hinged on their inability to make the most of their enterprising approach play.
Such was Bolton’s desperation that Alnwick came up for an injury-time corner. After being hooked back into the box, the keeper was granted a free header and a chance to write some miraculous headlines. But, alas, the ball dropped just wide of the post.
Anger was clear among the 961 travelling supporters at the final whistle. And no-one was spared.
Parkinson produced his well-worn invective about players working hard and giving their all. His willingness to shield the dressing room from criticism is admirable, yet the sentiment is now in danger of becoming stale.
Wanderers impotency in attack is not just a question of quality, or lack of investment, there has to be some tactical culpability too.
Parkinson’s current run of one win in 19 games stands as the joint worst of any manager in three decades, shared only by the ill-fated pairing of Roy McFarland and Colin Todd.
He called for new signings after the final whistle at Griffin Park, yet January is not an easy month to find the regular goal-scorer he needs at a cost this club can afford. Before that, the Boxing Day meeting with Rotherham United – who were humbled 4-0 at home by West Brom – takes on a whole new significance. If more bravery is not shown by manager on the team-sheet and players on the pitch, there is every chance the rot could set in for good.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]