Wanderers’ back line has become a tall story already this summer.
According to worldfootball.net, five of the 12 tallest players to represent Bolton Wanderers since details records began in 1995 are currently playing in Ian Evatt’s squad.
New additions Reiss Greenidge (6ft 6ins), Ricardo Santos (6ft 6ins), Billy Crellin (6ft 4ins) and George Taft (6ft 4ins) have joined last season’s capture, the 6ft 5ins Ryan Delaney, in what must surely rank as the most physically imposing back line in the club’s recent history.
Zat Knight had stood for six years as the tallest player to represent Wanderers in the post-Premier League era, leaving the club for a spell in MLS with Colorado Rapids in 2014. He has now been matched up by both Greenidge and Santos, with official stats listing all three players at 198cm.
Hailed for his possession-based football at Barrow, the addition of such height may seem incongruous with the ethos Evatt has pledged to bring to Bolton.
But while the head coach also vouches for his new signings’ technical ability on the ball, he may also be looking to avoid the issues he had in his first 12 months at Barrow, and particularly in the opening few weeks of last season.
The Bluebirds were struggling for height at the heart of their defence and conceded several goals from set pieces in the early part of the campaign until the addition of Blackburn Rovers loanee, Matt Platt.
The 6ft 4ins centre-back added a layer of stability from which the team mounted a climb up the table, eventually winning the league title.
Last season’s League Two was not especially renowned for set piece goals, nor direct football, with the divisional percentage of 22.8 per cent lower than the Championship (25.2) and comparable to League One (22.7). For comparison, just 20.1 per cent of the Premier League’s goals emanated directly from corners, free kicks or throw ins.
Some clubs were particularly reliant, however, with Newport (40.2 of their total tally), Colchester United (32.6), Northampton Town (31.4) and Carlisle United (30.7) way above the average.
And it is potentially the prospect of defending a corner in the last minute of a midweek away game at Rodney Parade which has made Evatt and Wanderers double down on a defence capable of protecting its own goal.
Equally, if the new head coach brings in the same tactics he employed at Barrow, then the two centre-halves on either side of the back three will also need to step forward into midfield to launch attacks, when required.
Pace has been an asset Evatt has discussed in each of his new additions and, according to former West Brom trainee Greenidge, is at the top of his skillset.
“I’m quick, strong, good at one v one defending, that’s my main attribute,” he told the club.
While Taft and Santos’s progress in recent years has been relatively easy to track, the 23-year-old has been out of plain sight in Norwegian football for the last four years.
After leaving the Hawthorns and spending a little time on loan at Port Vale and Ipswich he took a couple of steps back to relaunch his football career but now feels confident he can make a success of his move back to England.
“I played a bit of non-league and then went to play in the top leagues in Scandinavia. It was time now for me to come back over and make an imprint in the Football League. I know I’m ready, 100 per cent,” he said.
“I have been training with the lads for a couple of weeks in pre-season and the gaffer liked what he saw. I’m happy to be here.
“The gaffer told us all, myself included, how he wants to play and what we need to do to be able to play that way.
“It has been pretty concise and we’ve taken on the information, grasping it quickly.
“I have liked the football. I’ve learned a lot, even though it has only been two weeks.
“There’s been a lot of running – I can guarantee we’re going to be the fittest team in the league.”
None of Evatt’s three centre-half signings have shown a particular aptitude for goal-scoring during their careers but Wanderers may also feel they can benefit from some extra height in an attacking sense.
Taking a leaf from Phil Parkinson’s promotion-winning side of 2016/17, in which David Wheater and Mark Beevers shared 16 goals between them, the threat from set pieces was very much proven to be an advantage.
Wanderers scored eight of their 27 (29.6) goals from set pieces last season, five of which were headed, which was the fourth-lowest total in the division.
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