Another week in League One, another opponent recently crippled financially and working their way back up the structure: this week it’s barmy Bolton!
The Trotters are now a far cry from the turn of the 2000s where they enjoyed 11 seasons in the top flight, having had more unpaid tax bills than Al Capone.
In 2019 the club found themselves in dark times having gone into administration, had back to back relegations, and not paid players and staff for as long as five months. Following a summer transfer embargo this led to them commencing the 2019/20 campaign with children, and notably got spanked by some very average opposition.
Of course, after said teams feasted on the free points and goal difference, the takeover came through and Bolton signed 11 players prior to their next game against.. you guessed it, Sunderland. The new player bounce made an impact as Sunderland only sneaked a 1-1 draw with a late Aiden McGeady penalty, the reality was we were dreadful.
So, after relegation to League Two in 2019/20, Ian Evatt got the Trotters straight back up to League One for the start of this campaign. After only eight games Evatt humbly bragged that they should be top, deserving to win every game (which they didn’t), and we’re “the best team in the league”.
Well karma is a bitch Ian, as your best team currently sit as just men in 15th with a -4 goal difference, having lost more than they’ve won so far.
That being said they have won their last two games, and have been strengthened during the January window with the additions that include Aaron Morley, Marlon Fossey, Dion Charles and the wonderfully named Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. The latter joins a line of Iceland players to represent Bolton, and along with Charles gives striking options for Evatt, who has been quite coy about his team options for Saturday’s game.
Discussing his attacking choices Evatt said he can play “two midfielders, two number 10’s, a double pivot and one number 10, one pivot and two number 8’s” – and you thought Lee Johnson talked in riddles. Whether it’s bravado, gibberish, or just bullshit baffling brains, Evatt will have his team up for this one having felt short changed at the SoL earlier this season, losing 1-0.
What to expect? Well Bolton have played 3-5-2 the last two games, but with incomings and the aforementioned flexibility, this may be subject to change. They like to build possession from the back, be open, expansive and attacking, which could play perfectly into Sunderland’s hands.
It’s no secret that we can exploit teams who try to go toe to toe, so the onus will be on the lads to show why they are in the automatic promotion places. Bolton are led by defender Ricardo Santos who’s played nearly all games this season, though is on a disciplinary tightrope with ten bookings and a red so far. England u20 James Trafford has joined from Man City on loan and has immediately taken the gloves, with Joel Dixon reduced to the bench.
The man, the myth, Declan John is very much alive and well turning out most of this season in a more advanced position on the left. Striker Eoin Doyle has been let go this month, as he returns to his native Ireland, with Dion Charles taking his place up top. Elias Kaschunga, Xav Ameachi and Lloyd Isgrove are all expected to still be absent through injury, but the side could be strengthened if they get the purchase of Gillingham captain Kyle Dempsey over the line.
For the lads there’s been some transfer activity, as Patrick Roberts (bought) and Jack Clarke (loan) have arrived to add attacking strength out wide. The latter is not likely to feature Saturday, but Roberts may make the bench having trained all week.
Denver Hume has gone down to Fratton Park for £200,000, which made all those months of summer transfer negotiations seem all a bit pointless now. The Jermain Defoe will he won’t he saga continues, but who cares we’ve got Ross Stewart.. for now anyway.
With Bailey Wright joining Alex Pritchard in the ‘grade two calf strain club’, I would expect the back three to remain the same that yielded a welcome clean sheet last time out. Danny Batth is a massive addition (literally) to the starting X1 and can hopefully restore Tom Flanagan’s confidence (or at least stop him missing the ball), and free up in-form Callum Doyle to carry the ball out of the back.
Corry Evans will release his bubble wrap and attempt back to back games after an impressive display last week, recycling the ball and dictating the pace of the game. Leon Dajaku’s work rate was immense last time out and Johnson will be expecting more of the same from him, along with match winner Elliot Embleton.
The lads will be backed by more than 5,000 fans at the University of Bolton Stadium this weekend, as the club once again out-flex a fare few Championship and Premier League teams with their support. I expect the lads to have enough to win this game, and comfortably if they hit their straps.
It’d be a nice first league double of the season, not only as I think their manager is a nause, but I don’t want us to lose to a team sponsored by Home Bargains. Johnson has a lot of attacking options to play with, and matches away from the SoL pitch may prove great opportunities to showcase the free-flowing philosophy that we’ve come to recognise on better runs.