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Hill searches for end product to get Wanderers upwardly mobile

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
It took just four minutes for Wanderers to score their first goal of the Keith Hill era – but maintaining that supply remains an issue the new boss has yet to solve.

When Thibaud Verlinden opened the scoring at Rotherham United last month, cathartic celebrations among the Bolton fans were quickly cut short. Reality was somewhat grimmer, and the six goals conceded that afternoon in South Yorkshire left Hill needing to address his defensive shape as a matter of priority.

Since then, only three more goals have been shipped in five games, one of which was a penalty.

Wanderers have shown measured progress, now looking a fitter team with a more defined shape and philosophy on the pitch. But the solid base they have constructed now needs an end product, a fact pondered by Hill after Monday night’s 0-0 draw with Blackpool.

“We were close. I think it’s evident the progress we have made,” he said. “We just have to show more intent in the attacking third.

“They are the hard miles you have to run to go and score goals.

“We could be a very good League One side and I have drawn a lot of encouragement from what I have seen so far. But we have to be more productive in front of goal, definitely.”

The table does not reflect the giant strides taken since that hectic deadline day just over five weeks ago and continues to show that only Verlinden and Jack Hobbs have hit the back of the net in League One.

The recent capture of Joe Dodoo represents a potential source of goals and the former Rangers front man put four shots in on goal in 35 minutes against the Seasiders, by far the highest ratio of any Bolton player this season.

Verlinden has been the most prolific shot-taker, putting half of his eight efforts on target so far, followed fairly closely by Ali Crawford with three from seven.

Daryl Murphy, whose CV suggests he too knows where the back of the net is, is only two games into his comeback from a calf injury.

Despite the lack of goals, there have been few complaints from the Wanderers fans as Hill implemented a style of play which is decidedly easier on the eye than that of his predecessor, Phil Parkinson.

“I’m not a rocket science football manager,” said the Bolton boss of the brand he is trying to bring to the club. “I’m not Gary Neville, for example, the greatest pundit to ever represent Sky Sports.

“But one of my beliefs is that you should defend by keeping hold of the ball. I don’t believe you give it to your opponents.

“I am constantly looking over the data, pass completion, forward pass completion, second balls, regain and play. I don’t think it’s negative football, it allows us to defend higher up the pitch and defend less so we can make better defensive decisions.

“I am a developer. I love developing a style that suits me as a spectator.

“I don’t always get it right, but I hope to do it the majority of the time. I think the way we’re playing now all we need is a few more goals. We get that, we become a very good League One side.”

Stats compiled by @experimental361 show that Wanderers have spent 58.9 per cent of their season on level terms and just 5.4 per cent ahead in their 10 games so far.

Only two sides, Shrewsbury Town and Doncaster Rovers, have spent a greater length of time drawing, which perhaps further emphasises Hill’s need to find a match-winner.

Although Wanderers have picked up three league draws and taken Rochdale to penalties in the Trophy since his arrival, Hill has often found himself discussing progress away from the scoreboard.

“I am enjoying watching us grow,” he said, “watching the two full-backs grow in fitness. We’ve been working with Yoan Zouma on the training pitch with his positioning and he’s taking it in.

“I’m really pleased with a certain part of the product and I don’t see pressures in this job. It isn’t a ‘must get results’ because people have written us off already. There’s still 102 points available and I am confident we’ll pick up within that total because of the structure we’ve put in place. It’s important we keep trying to keep that going for as long as we can.”


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