Though Ian Evatt brought his players back for pre-season training some eight weeks before the competitive football began, in order to embed a new playing style, he has found the going tough in the early weeks becoming the first Bolton boss to lose their first five games.
The new head coach has already made one tactical concession, doing away with the 3-4-1-2 system which had been a constant throughout the summer and moving to a back four. And though there was evidence to suggest the tweak had a positive effect at Colchester a fortnight ago, Saturday’s defeat against Newport County left him staring back at the drawing board and considering more wholesale changes.
Five players – Billy Crellin, Eoin Doyle, Gethin Jones, Liam Gordon and Ricardo Santos – have played 90 minutes in each of the first three league defeats.
And it is perhaps a measure of the current inconsistency that Evatt has used 20 players in all competitions thus far, a total matched only by League Two’s basement club, Southend United.
After the weekend’s defeat, the head coach’s gaze had moved from longer-term planning towards more instant gratification. His view reflected that Wanderers need to break the losing cycle now and worry about implementing a structure later.
As such, the line-up he names at Harrogate on Saturday is as open to debate as any this season.
Players, and particularly younger ones, who had been ear-marked for loans to get their first team football may now feel there is an opportunity to stake a claim. The same can be said of those summer signings brought in as ‘back up’ to more established names.
Evatt is convinced his team will improve quickly once they have a goal, or a point on the board, and that the fragile confidence that has been shown in the last few weeks is only a temporary ailment.
So which players will he turn to in his hour of need? We looked at a handful of first team options who have not featured regularly since the start of the season to assess their chances of being involved this weekend.
The Irish defender played 90 minutes against Crewe in the EFL Trophy and scored a goal but hasn’t featured for a single minute of Wanderers’ three league games so far.
His absence from the line-up has surprised some. He had played regularly in pre-season and finished last year off in good form too.
When Bolton started the season with three centre-halves, who would be tasked with bringing the ball out from the back and launching attacks, there was an extra emphasis on them being comfortable in possession. Delaney – recruited by former Whites boss Keith Hill – was perhaps not seen as an ideal option.
Evatt has since switched to a back four, taking some of the possession pressure off the centre-backs, and so the former AFC Wimbledon man might just get another shot.
Last season’s bundle of energy has had to be content with a place on the bench so far.
After agreeing his first professional deal over the summer it has felt like a step down for the 19-year-old to find himself on the periphery of the squad once again – but Evatt insists the door is not closed.
Darcy made his debut in the Championship and played 20 times in League One last season yet it is not clear to see exactly where he would play in this line-up, particularly with captain Antoni Sarcevic looking like he will be back for Harrogate.
Wanderers fans would certainly like to see the academy graduate given a push.
Signed late in the summer as competition for Liam Gordon, the former Wycombe defender has been playing fitness catch-up. His late appearance as a sub against Colchester suggests he might be ready.
Youngster, Gordon, has played all but nine minutes of the five games so far in what has been a tough baptism at this level of football. Mascoll, who played in League One last term, could be a more experienced head to pitch in at Harrogate.
Billy Crellin came in for some criticism for his role in the two Newport goals at the weekend and though Evatt leapt to his defence, there is no question the young keeper has pressure on his shoulders right now.
If Evatt decides to take him out of the firing line, he does have an experienced option.
Gilks was signed primarily as a goalkeeper coach but has registered as a player and was playing League One football last season. If Evatt needs an on-field lieutenant, the former Scotland international could be the perfect choice.
Brought on against Newport and Forest Green, the former Bury and Morecambe midfielder has looked quite tidy in possession, sitting in front of the back four.
Another player to have joined the group late, there is possibly some way to go before Tutte is in top condition but after the difficult start made by Brandon Comley and, to a lesser extent, Tom White, there may be an argument to turn to a more experienced head in Tutte.
He has seen plenty of the ball in his two cameo appearances so far, though he may not be as mobile as other midfield options.
Another academy graduate who fans have lobbied for inclusion over the last couple of weeks – Brockbank’s only action thus far came against Crewe in the EFL Trophy.
Like Darcy, the homegrown defender rose to prominence at a higher level, albeit in extreme circumstances. The two players also share a similar issue in that there is no clear and defined position for them to drop into.
Brockbank has played as a right-back but finds his path blocked by Gethin Jones and Jak Hickman, and if Evatt persists with two centre-halves there are half a dozen options.
Could he, or another centre-back be pushed into a holding midfield role, a la Ivan Campo?
Two encouraging appearances off the bench were capped by a goal against his former club Crewe in the EFL Trophy – but an unexplained injury picked up at the end of that game has meant the striker has been out of action ever since.
Miller looks to be a link striker who combines well with Eoin Doyle in the brief glimpses we have seen of him thus far.
It would be a shock, however, if Evatt were to break up his big-name attack at this point, particularly with Miller only just back to fitness.
Certainly has the pedigree to be commanding a first team spot, eventually, but having only been included in the squad against Newport at the last minute you have to wonder if the former Southampton and Swindon winger is fit enough to start?
Isgrove does give Evatt the chance to rotate his wide men in the system he has used for the last two games. Able to play off either flank, you can see the logic behind his arrival.
Somewhat of a mystery package in all this, the ex-Macclesfield Town and Shrewsbury striker has seemingly arrived as back-up to the central strikers, adding “pace and power” to the attacking options, in the words of his manager.
It would be quite a statement to see him play from the start at Harrogate, given his late arrival in the squad.
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