Once again, Phil Parkinson’s team walked off having exerted every ounce of effort they had – a fact acknowledged proudly by the 499 travelling supporters perched high up in the Atyeo Stand.
It had not been a vintage performance, but the Whites had got into a winning position thanks to Will Buckley’s bullet header just before the hour mark. The joy was brief as Lee Johnson’s triple substitution brought with it a canny change of shape and two goal-scorers in Matt Taylor and Kasey Palmer.
Such decisive action is rarely seen from Parkinson. His plan to contain and counter has been much the same all season, and though his players are clearly working hard you have to question whether something more dynamic will be needed to repeat last season’s survival act.
Much will depend on Ken Anderson’s ability to rid the club of a registration embargo this week because only then will Parkinson be able to try and talk players into joining his fight, which right now looks a very difficult conversation indeed.
It remains to be seen whether the manager will be backed with hard cash to bring players in, or whether he will have to check out available loans. But given the events of the last month, Bolton will be a hard sell to players, agents and their parent clubs.
Wanderers have one win in 17 and face the prospect of a home game against fourth-placed West Brom next week with the uncertainty of fan-protests before and possibly even during the match.
By the time they reconvene to face Reading at home on January 29, new signings are an absolute must if Bolton are to stay in this division – if only to give Parkinson some degree of flexibility in the way his side play each and every week.
The FA Cup victory against League One Walsall had been a pleasant diversion, yet there was little of the same attacking verve at Ashton Gate.
Craig Noone had been chief creator in a five-goal landslide against the Saddlers from a wide left position, yet the Liverpudlian found himself playing behind chief striker Josh Magennis and had nowhere near the same effect.
Wanderers defended very well in the first half but did have to ride their luck when Andreas Weimann’s mazy run and shot deflected up off Olkowski, over Alnwick, and bounced off the top of the bar.
Famara Diedhiou also went close after flicking the ball deftly over Pawel Olkowski, only for his shot to be blocked at the near post by Ben Alnwick.
There was little to write home about in an attacking sense. Sammy Ameobi went on a trademark gallop at one stage but failed to muster a meaningful shot and Noone also cleared the bar with a header.
Wanderers had just 22 per cent of possession in the first 45 minutes, seemingly content to protect their penalty box and rely on the hard running of Ameobi and Co to get them up the pitch.
After the break, Jason Lowe fired a nice half-volley at Niki Maenpaa but Parkinson’s side couldn’t keep hold of the ball and chances started to materialise with worrying regularity.
Diedhiou missed a sitter from six yards after Tomas Kalas had struck the woodwork again with a header. The same player came within inches of turning in crosses from Josh Brownhill and Callum O’Dowda.
Away fans were loud throughout and remained impressively behind the team. The mood shifted slightly when they turned their ire to Wanderers owner Ken Anderson – who was not present at the game – but they soon had reason for a more celebratory tone.
Noone did well to win possession from Lloyd Kelly and Ameobi fired in a wicked cross, diverted into the net by Buckley for his third goal of the campaign.
It took less than three minutes for Johnson to make his mind up to change – a triple substitution that reaped instant reward.
Wanderers had defended so well but once they had a lead to protect, the concentration disappeared. After Mark Beevers couldn’t clear a high ball into the box, Olkowski made a sprawling challenge on Taylor to force the ball wide. Ameobi then allowed Taylor to send an angled shot on goal which caught Alnwick out completely at his near post.
Moments later, Adam Webster beat David Wheater to a corner, Taylor hooked the ball towards goal and Palmer headed over the line despite the best efforts of Luke Murphy.
There was still plenty of time for Wanderers to get back into the game at that stage but it was still another 11 minutes before Parkinson made a change from the bench, bringing Clayton Donaldson on for Will Buckley. Josh Vela and Lloyd Dyer were plunged in with just five minutes to go.
Magennis went close with a header – the cross coming from Noone, who had moved to the left flank for the closing stages. In truth, it never really looked like Wanderers were going to get a share of the spoils.
Wanderers sleepwalked to relegation in 2016 amid complete chaos off the pitch but it is encouraging to see that this group are not going to go down without a fight.
Parkinson needs help in the form of signings, and some would argue needs to help himself by playing more attacking football.
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