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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » MARC ILES' BIG MATCH VERDICT: Peterborough 1 Bolton 0

MARC ILES' BIG MATCH VERDICT: Peterborough 1 Bolton 0

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers went to great lengths to implement a new game-plan and give themselves a fighting chance at Peterborough – and the signs are, they may be on to something.

Though teething problems emerged in the first half at London Road, and the prolific Ivan Toney was left all alone to grab his 14th goal of the campaign, a more defensive approach should be enough to stifle lesser lights in this division and see more points brought back to the UniBol.

Yes, Bolton lived on their nerves at times. Mo Eisa hit the bar, and a few others good chances went begging. But the option of hitting a switch and being able to add the exciting Thibaud Verlinden in the second half could be a dangerous weapon on the club’s travels – even if some fans would have had the Belgian featuring from the start.

The plan to play three centre backs, including a shock return for Liam Bridcutt, had been a rather closely guarded secret in the last few days.

Keith Hill had hinted on Thursday that his team may have to “be a little more boring” if they are to end a long-standing cycle of wretched away form but bringing the Nottingham Forest loanee back as a defender and leaving the experience of Jake Wright on the bench was something few would have predicted.

Bridcutt had filled the role before, largely with a view to guiding the impressionable Yoan Zouma. Here, helped by the aerial power of Josh Earl, the blend worked well enough against the division’s sharpest attack.

Wanderers’ two full-backs, Josh Emmanuel and Adam Chicksen, did not fare quite as well.

Both have been consistent for Hill in his first few months as Bolton boss, yet their performance levels have dipped in the last few games.

Toney’s winner – finished superbly with a diving header - seemed to stem from Emmanuel’s drop in concentration, or at least miscommunication with Zouma, and Chicksen found himself on the backfoot for most of the afternoon against Posh winger Joe Ward.

If there was a criticism of the defensive work, it was that the players all-too-often seemed to be seeking instruction from the side-line, rather than taking the initiative on-field. It emerged after the that Bridcutt had only made himself available of Friday, which explains a few of the teething troubles.

Given time, things should improve. Unfortunately for Wanderers, that is not a commodity they have to spare and the teams above them are starting to pick up points, restricting the numbers of clubs Hill's side could theoretically rein in.

Adding a different tactical layer away from home seems to be a necessary stage of this team’s development, even if there may be some short-term pain to endure.

It has been some time since a Bolton team has had a genuine alternative formation. It has become a footballing cliché in these parts to accuse the manager of ‘failing to have a Plan B’ so criticism of Hill in this early stage of his team trying something different seems a little churlish.

There is clearly work to be done, especially in an attacking sense where Ronan Darcy and Joe Dodoo are tasked in this formation with breaking forward to link with Daryl Murphy. On this occasion it worked seldomly in the first 45 minutes and the introduction of Verlinden just before the hour mark injected a much-needed sense of urgency in attack.

Moving to a back four and the more familiar three-man attack served to put Posh on the back foot.

Luke Murphy, whose return to the midfield was also a solid one, missed Bolton’s best chance of the game as he steered a free header wide of the post.

Home fans began to get restless and the 606 who followed Wanderers suddenly felt a most unexpected comeback could be on the cards.

That it didn’t happen is bound to leave some feeling the more attack-minded approach should have been employed from the start. Verlinden’s trickery and pace was for the third game in a row an exciting addition from the bench, yet he has rarely had the same impact when starting games, particularly away from home.

If the on-loan Stoke man could add more defensive discipline and work-rate to his game he would surely be a guaranteed starter, home or away. The chances are, he also wouldn’t be playing his football at Bolton Wanderers.

By all accounts, Peterborough have rather flattered to deceive in recent weeks, bailed out on several occasions by a 27-goal striker pairing and the creative genius of Marcus Maddison, consigned to the bench on Saturday until the second half because of illness.

The weight of pressure was worthy of more than a one-goal lead at half time, after which they laboured in attack. All of a sudden, the prospect of a Bolton point did not look so far-fetched.

Verlinden, Darcy and Dodoo started to push deeper into opposition territory and though Chicksen and Daryl Murphy had shots blocked close in, Luke Murphy’s header was the only clear-cut opportunity fashioned, in truth.

Dodoo cut in off the right in the dying minutes but could only produce a tame low shot easily dealt with by Christy Pym – a descendant of the great Bolton keeper of the 1920s, Dick Pym.

It never quite got as bad as Hill’s “boring” prediction but Wanderers’ new formation certainly looks like it could be a valuable option in future games on the road, and particularly the tougher teams in League One.

The next chance to trial this system away from home will be on Boxing Day against a Sunderland side hardly pulling up any trees under Phil Parkinson. With the right tweaks over the next fortnight, who is to say it cannot be more successful?

Something has to happen very soon for points to start materialising at home and away, or the rest of Wanderers season will simply be a sandbox for experiment.

With January signings now being discussed and the embargo still boxing Hill and Flitcroft in, there are some big decisions on recruitment to be made in the coming weeks. If there are still players in this squad who fail to suit either system, or ideally both, then their future at the club must surely be in doubt.

The first full transfer window for the new management team promises to be a hugely important one.


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