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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » MARC ILES' BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Bolton 0 FGR 1


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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
A sobering score-line displayed to an empty stadium – and a defeat which will perhaps be logged as a defining one in the storied history of Bolton Wanderers.

The four-time FA Cup winners, favourites for the title, bested by Forest Green Rovers, a club who only gained promotion to the Football League three years ago.

In time, the result will hopefully be set aside with similar low points against Aldershot or Scarborough from yesteryear, curiosities pointed to by those who witnessed it in order to explain how far the club had fallen, a terrace equivalent of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

“One apiece against Yeovil? You were lucky, I saw Glenn Burvill score at Burnden Park.”

Of course, it is no laughing matter right now in Bolton, be it on the pitch or in the neighbourhood. And my, how we could all use some distraction right now.

Wrenched back into local lockdown, the town is suffering right now. We had all hoped the worst was over, yet the pubs and restaurants stand empty with little clue as to when they will return to normality.

The same can be said for the football club. Ian Evatt’s arrival and his ambitious mission statement inflated expectation – perhaps above where it should be – and so grim doses of reality, like this one dished out by Forest Green are quite the come down.

Cup disappointments against Bradford and Crewe had been brushed off as dress rehearsals. And though most folk appreciate there is a long-term rebuilding project going on, the disappointment at what was served up on Saturday afternoon was plain to see.

Fans, unable to watch their team in the flesh, passed judgement from a laptop. And it was no great surprise that Wanderers’ nervy display took a battering.

Social media can be a tough place on a Saturday evening even in the best of times but comments after Carl Winchester’s winner were so severe, even Bolton’s club captain Antoni Sarcevic turned off his account on Twitter momentarily to remove himself from the crossfire.

Evatt also deviated slightly from the positive image he has portrayed thus far by commenting on a ‘losing culture’ he has inherited at Wanderers.

Presumably, the head coach’s concerns are external, for his dressing room bears very little resemblance to the one which dropped out of League One under Keith Hill last season.

But the supporters’ vitriol had been relatively subdued before the Forest Green defeat – and though premature, it can be partly explained by the fact Evatt and his players have constructed the image of a club gunning for promotion over several weeks, something this display most certainty did not back up.

Defensive mistakes had been Bolton’s undoing in the cups, coupled with a frustrating start for their impressive strike force of Nathan Delfouneso and Eoin Doyle. Here, it was something in between.

A gilt-edged miss from Doyle early on seemed to freeze Bolton’s midfield in their tracks. And after an encouraging opening 15 minutes they became static and tense in possession.

Sarcevic, voted into last year’s League Two representative team for his work at promoted Plymouth Argyle, did not look comfortable playing at number 10. Behind him, Tom White and Brandon Comley continually found themselves with ball at feet and no movement around them.

Wing-backs Gethin Jones and Liam Gordon motored along well enough, the former providing Sarcevic with a decent near-post chance, but without a reliable tempo in the middle of the park, Evatt’s possession machine looked clunky.

Frustratingly, Forest Green’s back line looked vulnerable on the few times Wanderers strung a few forward passes together with the nervousness also spreading to keeper Luke McGee.

The Gloucestershire men were able to settle themselves, however, and Winchester’s low strike after the restart, which bounced off the foot of the post, was just reward for steadily building pressure.

The visitors had been able to keep Bolton penned in for a good 15 minutes either side of the interval, thanks largely to a succession of cheap free kicks earned around the penalty box. Billy Crellin had been able to fend off danger up to the 50th minute but had no chance with Winchester’s winner.

The arrival of Ali Crawford off the bench added a layer Bolton had been lacking to that point, as did Andy Tutte, who came on in the 71st minute but had more touches of the ball than both Doyle and Delfouneso combined.

Ex-Bury and Liverpool youngster Bright Amoateng also came off the bench for his debut but by the time he did, the Whites had abandoned calm build up in favour of frantic attack.

Crawford had one effort pushed away by McGee and a late rally saw Gordon blast over the top after getting on the end of a deep cross from Jones.

Had Wanderers snatched a point at that stage, Forest Green may have felt it unjust. And with the stadium in silence, their shouts of joy at the final whistle summed up what it meant to them to get three points at such a venue.

Bolton will have a bullseye on their back for the entire season – and Mark Cooper’s men stuck one right down the middle.

For all the disappointment, there is a general understanding among Bolton fans that Evatt and his staff need time before his work can be judged fairly. And it is preposterous to do so after one game.

That does not stop this result stinging the supporters, nor should it prevent any constructive criticism of what we have seen so far. Take all that out of football and we might as well pack up and go home.

Brand Evatt looks and sounds the part, and if the project is successful, this could be a memorable campaign. There are plenty out there who have faith that it will turn out right in the end.

Those who don’t? Well, only results can change their mind.

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