After the promotion bravado of the summer, there has been a noticeable shift in consciousness at the University of Bolton Stadium where the size of the rebuilding job has rather suddenly dawned on those involved.
Evatt asked for realism, putting Wanderers’ budget into context, and admitted for the first time that an immediate return to League One is no fait accompli.
Many fans are happy to go along with the longer-term vision so long as there is evidence of progression, and that is where 90 minutes of fragmented and erratic football on Saturday afternoon raised yet more questions about this squad.
Boiled down into a highlights reel of 15 and 20-pass moves and clever passing triangles there is an aspect of Evatt’s Wanderers which is tremendously pleasing on the eye. The head coach hopes, in time, that such fluid football will become the norm – but it is the dross that lies on the floor of the editing room which provides most concern to Bolton supporters right now.
There have been red flags in key positions on the pitch for most of the season, nowhere more so than in goal where Fleetwood’s on-loan England youth international Billy Crellin is suffering in full public view.
He was by no means the only player who made mistakes against Crewe, but he is certainly the man who is making them most regularly, and at such crucial stages of the game, too.
Bolton were level at 1-1 with 20 minutes to go – Nathan Delfouneso having traded an excellent goal with Mikael Mandron – when the first bolt of lighting struck. Oliver Finney moved past Tom White’s powderpuff challenge with consummate ease but Crellin’s attempts to block his left-footed shot were unconvincing.
The visitors now happily ahead, Wanderers gave Callum Ainley ample space to clip in a cross towards Owen Dale five minutes later and with Crellin completely missing in his goal, Charlie Kirk headed apologetically into the empty net to all-but guarantee the win.
Delfouneso did grab a second, capping off one of those infuriatingly infrequent spells of flowing football to make the final stages more interesting. The goal failed to inspire the Whites, who were by now looking a tired team, and Crewe’s lead was not tested further.
At the final whistle, Crellin looked to the skies and wrenched off his gloves in disgust. Others, who had also not done enough on the day, had already turned tail for the dressing room, head bowed.
By now, everyone is aware of the way Evatt condemned Crellin’s form in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw at Cambridge United and that he apologised for the choice of terminology rather than the sentiment. He chose to take the diplomatic route on Saturday evening and refused to single his goalkeeper out for special attention – but he will know deep down that the frequent mistakes and rushes of blood he highlighted just a few weeks ago have gone nowhere.
This is not just a case of a keeper being hauled over hot coals for the odd dropped catch or letting a shot dribble under his body. Crellin’s distribution on the day was also an area of great concern and led to Wanderers struggling to build up any momentum from the back.
Rather ironically, it could be Matt Gilks – the man whose recommendation brought Crellin to the UniBol – who steps in to help his young charge when Salford City and Sky Sports come to town on Friday.
Neither Gilks nor youngster Matty Alexander have even been on the bench in recent weeks, another decision most politely described as ‘brave;’ for Evatt to stand by Crellin once more would surpass even that.
Crewe fully deserved their win and had it not been for some stoic defending by the likes of Ryan Delaney and Ricardo Santos on the day, the margin of defeat was surely have been greater.
Both of Delfouneso’s goals were the result of fine build-up and there was a 10-minute spell after half time when Wanderers seemed to have struck the right tempo, but those little glimmers are not enough at the moment. Evatt’s side needs to learn quickly to strike a better balance between playing to win and playing not to lose.
Though the visitors’ possession football was to be admired at times, it highlighted defensive weaknesses which have existed for several weeks now. And though Evatt quite rightly points out that Eoin Doyle, Lloyd Isgrove and Shaun Miller are on their way back for Bolton, it is only another returnee – Gethin Jones – who is likely to make his side any less likely to concede. And simply ‘outscoring’ League Two looks a very long shot indeed.
Tom White’s form since his return from injury has dipped and with Antoni Sarcevic also carrying a back problem it left the middle of midfield looking decidedly vulnerable. Added to that the fact both wing-backs, Peter Kioso and Liam Gordon, were caught regularly pushing too far up the pitch.
Ronan Darcy was caught on the ball in the build-up to the first goal and though he showed guts to get back involved, aiding Ali Crawford to create Delfouneso’s well-taken effort just before half time, he did not make a major dent in the game, raising more questions about the lack of physicality in the middle of the park.
There are bigger issues at Bolton. Summer recruitment can be best described as hit and miss and many remain unconvinced that the new structure implemented at the start of this calendar year has either the experience or financial backing to get the club to where they want to be.
Evatt has by no means escaped the fans’ ire but looks to have the backing of Football Ventures to continue trying to bed down his brand in what is turning out to be an unexpectedly frustrating campaign. That task will surely require some decisive selection in the coming days and weeks, however, for it to stand any chance of short-term success.
Whether he has the options to make a discernible difference is another matter altogether.
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