After the banality of Milton Keynes, the heartbreak of Bloomfield Road, this was a credible answer from the dressing room to those who questioned the strength of this team’s spine.
It was nowhere near as spectacular as 22 shots rained in on the Accrington goal suggested, indeed had it not been for the brilliance of Remi Matthews in the second half Bolton could have been starring at a defeat which would almost certainly have raised more immediate questions.
But holding on to a point in this manner after a week of intense physical and mental pressure should surely be seen as a step in the right direction, when concerns were rife that this could be an irreversible and accelerated freefall towards relegation.
For Keith Hill, the man whose future as manager seems to the topic of great debate of late, it was not the unequivocal result that would have blasted back at his doubters. It was, however, the sort of performance which shows the players are still playing for him, and themselves.
Of the 18 names on the team-sheet, only Dennis Politic and sub Ryan Delaney have a cast iron contract for next season. And while each of them can point to plenty of mitigating circumstances as to why they will have a relegation from League One on their CV this summer, their chances of securing their future at this, or another club will be greatly improved if they can put more points like this on the board over the next 12 games and help Bolton overtake Southend United for the wooden spoon as a bare minimum.
Hill’s impossible dream may have long-since turned into a deep sleep but his lack of options, intensified by the absence of Chris O’Grady, Muhammadu Faal and Ronan Darcy through injury, were painfully evident at times on Saturday.
Wanderers had peppered the opposition goal with shots of varying quality and set a tempo that would have cheered their beleaguered boss. It proved too much for Jack Hobbs, who was withdrawn at the break and replaced by Yoan Zouma with a slight hamstring injury.
To Hill and Zouma’s credit, Bolton remained defensively resolute in the second half. But other than instructing his wide men Joe Dodoo and Politic to swap wings, the Bolton boss looked reluctant to tinker further with his formation and introduce anything further from the bench, to the frustration of some in the crowd.
One might well rewind to the January window and wonder how dearly Wanderers have paid for not bringing more attacking recruits on board and doubling down on defence and midfield?
Not that we had much reason to complain in the first 45 minutes. Bobby Grant was the only Stanley player to threaten Matthews’ goal when his heavy touch let him down on the edge of the penalty box, but otherwise it was one-way traffic.
Politic stabbed over in the first minute, keeper Josef Bursik pushed Ali Crawford’s close-range effort around the post and Toto Nsiala and Daryl Murphy both went close with headers as Wanderers made a much better fist of their set plays.
The outstanding outlet was Dodoo, whose recent form has been a little jaded. Here, he teased and tormented full-back Callum Johnson to create a handful of good chances and go close himself.
The former Leicester man went closest on the stroke of half time, cutting in off the left to drill a shot towards Bursik’s near post, only for the Stoke City loanee to push it wide.
Wanderers hit the proverbial wall in the second half and though Hobbs’ withdrawal won’t have helped, it helped enormously that his replacement, Zouma, produced a composed and mature performance under pressure for the rest of the game.
Jordan Clark’s personal duel with Matthews began on the hour mark – a rasping effort from the edge of the box tipped wide at full stretch. Rated by Bolton boss Hill as the “best winger in League One” he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck after the interval from his position on the right.
He would go closer with the last kick of the game but not before John Coleman has freshened his side off the bench with the likes of Dion Charles and Benny Ashley-Seal, heaping more pressure on a Bolton team now looking on their chinstrap.
They had the odd foray into Stanley territory. Politic and Dodoo had glimpses at goal and Kean Bryan, who had played in a deep-lying midfield role, headed wide late on.
Temperatures dropped and as Accrington laid siege to the Bolton goal late on, you feared Hill’s side were going to suffer in the ‘red zone’ once again. But not this time.
Clark’s stinging shot was repelled by Matthews in the 94th minute and seconds later referee Josh Smith blew the final whistle. A sense of relief filled the stadium, if not celebration.
Matthews certainly deserved his moment. Like every other member of this season’s squad he has made mistakes and had off-days but too often he has been criticised without balance and judged purely on the number of goals Bolton were leaking. He will have options this summer, that much is for sure.
“On paper, I think this is a very good League One side,” the keeper remarked after the final whistle. And his point gets to the crux of why there has been so much frustration around in the last few months.
To what extent has this team underachieved? Some will scoff at the idea Bolton should regard a goalless draw against Accrington as a step forward, others will take a more compassionate view on the trials and tribulations which brought them to this point.
Only one view matters, however, and that is the club’s ownership. And with little communication on that front, we can only deduce they are still making up their own minds.
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