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MARC ILES' BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bolton 1 Preston 2

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
These are dark days indeed if your allegiances happen to lie with Bolton Wanderers.

Uncertainty over the club’s ownership off the field, unimaginative football on it, a perfect concoction has been created to leave supporters as disconnected with their club as it is possible to be.

This should have been an afternoon about local passion, a rivalry which stretches back more than 130 years and to the days when Lancashire’s mill towns dominated the game.

Back in September there had been fireworks at Deepdale, even after the final whistle sounded. On Saturday Preston must have been shocked at the ease they took three points.

The outcome should have been one to brag about in workplaces and schoolyards – but from a Bolton perspective at least, it was an abject lesson in going through the motions summed up by the mass exodus of home supporters as Preston’s second goal hit the back of the net.

The same mood has percolated right through the club. A token 15-minute burst at the start hinted at a more evenly-fought contest but gave was to more nervous, uninspired football once a 17-year-old midfielder with just five first team appearances limped off the pitch.

Preston scored twice and could have had more. It was only their own profligacy that offered Bolton even a hint at getting back into the game when Clayton Donaldson ended a year-long wait for a league goal in the 90th minute.

Declan Rudd’s fine save from Josh Magennis in injury time stopped Wanderers claiming a point they would not have deserved.

Fans clamour for a change of manager, a different voice, but in reality there is little chance of that happening while Ken Anderson’s time is preoccupied in selling the club.

Regardless of the sympathy which still exists for Parkinson’s plight it is hard to believe a run of one victory in 21 games – his worst as a manager - would not at least threaten his job security at a more stable club.

It is not entirely on his shoulders that the players look so bereft of confidence, which has also impacted significantly on performances, but he should not be considered blameless, either.

The manager had called for players and fans alike to produce a spectacle which could impress potential buyers. That being said, this was the footballing equivalent of a yellow discount sticker.

Relegation should not be a foregone conclusion with 45 points still to play for and yet the body language of this team is almost identical to the one which sleepwalked into League One three years ago. With a trip to Birmingham to come on Tuesday night and then league leaders Leeds United and Norwich City to come before February ends, the death warrant could be all but signed by the time we reach March.

Josh Magennis started up front and had two decent opportunities in the first quarter of an hour. One header from Gary O’Neil’s cross was aimed straight at Rudd, a second shot from 25 yards out was curled narrowly wide.

Any hope of more to come seemed to end when Luca Connell took a knock on the edge of his own penalty area. The youngster limped off to be replaced by Josh Vela, after which the team lost shape and gradually retreated into its shell.

Tom Barkhuizen should have opened the scoring, bursting through on a neat lay-off from Sean Maguire but dragging his shot wide. Alan Browne also saw an effort hacked off the line by Jason Lowe.

The pressure could not be denied for long, though, and after Barkhuizen got in behind Jonathan Grounds his cross was swept through David Wheater’s legs by Browne for the opening goal.

Maguire should have supplied a second before half time, dancing through two non-existent challenges, his close-range shot was touched wide by Remi Mathews.

Into the second half Preston continued to look a yard quicker, a second sharper. The only surprise was that they had not extended their lead.

Parkinson changed to 3-5-2, moving Callum Connolly to left wing-back and putting Donaldson up front alongside Magennis. The shift in formation momentarily offered the visitors something to think about but the lack of attacking imagination shown by Wanderers meant they rarely looked like getting back on level terms. The extent to which Sammy Ameobi is currently suffering for form right now is difficult to watch.

Matthews tipped a shot from Brad Potts on to the woodwork after he had waltzed through the middle of the Bolton defence.

The stadium seemed to wait in anticipation for a second goal, as if many supporters needed an excuse to leave. It arrived with eight minutes left when Marc Wilson gave the ball to Potts on half way, and he played in Barkhuizen for the decisive blow.

Cue mass exodus.

Those who remained would have seen Donaldson end his long wait for a league goal, which stretched back to last January. He took it well, stroking a half-volley into the net after Magennis had headed back at the far post.

Rudd’s reflexes then denied Magennis an equaliser deep into stoppage time. Even now, it is difficult to fathom how Wanderers came that close to getting a point.

Something needs to give. If the depressing financial realities at Wanderers are not hard enough to bear, performances on the pitch are making it increasingly hard for supporters to identify with their club. Attendance, for many, is now more about duty than passion.

A clean slate is needed, even if it looks like coming too late to save this season.

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