Whatever you think of the Boltonian’s performance as manager of Wanderers since August, and opinions remain polarised, he has had the sort of luck with injuries that would make you fear for any pet kitty who came within kicking range once he walked back through the door at home.
Last weekend it was Jack Hobbs, followed quickly by Kean Bryan and Yoan Zouma, this weekend Remi Matthews, Daryl Murphy and Jason Lowe joined the queue outside the treatment room.
Hill believes the underlying cause is a lack of pre-season preparation, exacerbated by the lack of senior options in a squad truncated by embargo.
How well he has done with the players who have been consistently available remains open to interpretation. But here, in what is likely to be Wanderers’ final visit to AFC Wimbledon before they return to their spiritual home at Plough Lane, Hill might feel happy with the point earned.
Bolton have not put back-to-back clean sheets together in the league since September 2018, a run of some 77 games. Neither Wimbledon nor Accrington have posed the most fearsome attacking prospects, but in a season where positives have been rarer than the proverbial rocking horse excretion, you might choose to see it as a small step forward.
This clean sheet was made more impressive by the fact it came with a brand-new defensive partnership in Toto Nsiala and Ryan Delaney, the game’s outstanding players. Wimbledon’s up-and-at-them, direct style played to their strengths, yet there was plenty to admire about the bravery shown by both defenders to protect their own penalty box.
The downside was that attacking creativity was almost exclusively the responsibility of Dennis Politic. If he wasn’t making inroads, nobody was.
Ali Crawford’s last few appearances since returning from long-term injury have been encouraging, but here, on a bobbly pitch, he struggled to get any traction whatsoever.
It was a day for sweat rather than swagger. There have been times in the last couple of months where Wanderers have exhibited the body language of a relegated side – something which has not reflected well on their embattled manager – but this definitely wasn’t one of them.
There has been plenty of talk about Hill’s future, discussion about what motivation Wanderers might have to gain results in the last dozen games of the season. Here, there was a collective answer.
And yet it all started with a mistake that very nearly cost Bolton dear. Joe Pigott chased down a clearance from Remi Matthews, the ball looping back towards goal and dropping a yard short of the post. A let-off indeed.
Matthews and Wanderers recovered their poise. Politic made a mockery of the uneven pitch, gliding towards the penalty box each time he got the ball, and the game ebbed and flowed at a reasonable pace. Neither side created a gilt-edged opportunity until a few minutes before the interval when Jason Lowe’s cross found its way to Daryl Murphy who ended up being crowded out after trying to make his way around keeper Joe Day from a tight angle.
Questions may be asked about whether the Irishman should have got a shot off earlier. Murphy works hard for the cause but with perhaps only one opportunity coming his way per game of late, the lack of goals are clearly weighing a little on his mind.
Ali Crawford tried an audacious lob straight from kick-off that nearly caught Day off guard. But when Lowe pulled up on half-way with a hamstring injury the game rather lost its edge.
Wimbledon continued to pepper the Bolton box, something Nsiala and Delaney looked all too happy to defend. And though Ethan Hamilton and Luke Murphy retreated a little too deep at times, their ability to keep winning the second ball meant the home side never truly got on top.
One free kick found Appiah, whose header ended up nestling in the back of the net, but a linesman’s flag thankfully spared Hill having to rip up the game-plan.
For the 700-or-so who had travelled to Kingston the spectacle wasn’t great. They remained impressively supportive as the game hung in the balance, yet a winning goal would have made the grind so much more satisfying.
Politic held the key. He raided into Wimbledon territory a couple of times in the second half, aided by the fit-again Ronan Darcy, yet his final delivery or choice of pass was lacking.
Anthony Georgiou also came on as a late sub, his first appearance since signing on loan from Tottenham back at the end of January. The winger had one brief glimpse of goal towards the end but, like Politic, took the wrong option.
Pressure increased towards the end, Wimbledon’s corner count upping to 12. Again, though, Nsiala and Co stood strong.
The defensive performance deserves a mention in a season where it has often been castigated, though you wonder where this sort of grit was in December and January when the chances of avoiding relegation were still alive.
Fifteen years earlier, many of those travelling fans had watched as Bolton beat Manchester City to go sixth in the Premier League. Some of those home supporters will have watched Wimbledon hammer the Isle of Wight’s Newport 5-0 in Isthmian Division One as they battled back up the leagues. Perhaps all that goes to prove is that a football club’s fortunes are at the mercy of those who run it.
Wanderers’ current owners must come up with a plan now to make sure the club descends no further. Every element of the football department seems to be under review but for those who want to remain at the club, this kind of gritty, committed display should do no harm, however tough it was to watch.
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