The theory went that Ian Evatt would graft the blueprint he had used to guide the Bluebirds to an unexpected National League title, and with greater resources, a luxurious stadium and big fanbase, Bolton could rise again after years spent in financial purgatory.
In turning the unfashionable Barrow into a non-league version of Barcelona, Evatt had happened upon a tactical system which made of mockery of the non-league football stereotype.
The Catalan comparisons had pushed his stock sky-high by the time the game was put in lockdown and Bolton effectively began their search for a man to replace Keith Hill.
After some initial resistance, Barrow relented on their efforts to keep hold of Evatt, his assistant Peter Atherton plus Lewis Duckmanton, who joined the Whites as an analyst. Estimates on the exact cost vary between £100,000 and £250,000, depending on your proximity to the Lake District, but for a club that had not paid cash for a player since Josh Magennis two years earlier, any outlay was a significant one.
Evatt had – and still has – all the attributes Bolton had been looking for in a new manager. The professional polish, the positive personality and he preached a style of football that had supporters paying hand over fist for season tickets.
But as quickly as fans’ hopes were dashed and they realised they would not be allowed to see their team live as planned, the dream that Evatt would provide instant relief also faded.
Five straight defeats were halted by a win at Harrogate – but a failure to build on that result has left the Bolton fanbase frustrated that they were mis-sold a fantasy.
Twenty new signings have yet to show cohesion. And though there were genuine reasons for hope in pre-season there has been very little sign thus far that Evatt’s squad can challenge for the top seven, let alone the silverware they were tipped to lift.
With echoes of the radical style change attempted by Sammy Lee in the aftermath of Sam Allardyce’s departure, there remain very real concerns among the Wanderers fanbase that Evatt’s best intentions may not be enough.
A great deal of focus has been given to the club’s recruitment over the summer and the role of little-known head of football operations, Tobias Phoenix, who was appointed at the start of February after a spell as Macclesfield Town’s director of football.
Wanderers remain in a transfer embargo and unable to pay either transfer or loan fees for any deal until next summer. And though they did grab headlines for securing two of last season’s leading lights, Antoni Sarcevic and Eoin Doyle, neither man has yet lived up to expectation.
It was boasted during the summer that players had been recruited according to their specific requirements in Evatt’s tactical system using a new data-driven approach.
The lack of football played between March and September gave little opportunity to watch the supporting cast of free agents in the flesh but the suitability of some of the arrivals has been called into question over what has been a consistently underwhelming start to the campaign.
Evatt’s own stance appeared to flip within 24 hours at the weekend, when soon after saying he was happy with the business he had done during the transfer window he was then critical of the same players who had turned out in defeat against Oldham.
If we know nothing else about the former QPR and Blackpool defender, it is that he speaks from the heart. How wise it was to do so on Saturday evening is very much up for debate.
Evatt insists that on the training ground all is looking well. On the pitch, however, there can be little doubt that the product on offer bears little resemblance to the one Wanderers were selling in the summer. And thus, somewhat incredibly, just 110 days into his tenure at Bolton there are already people calling for change.
Presuming the head coach’s post-match assessment has not bruised egos too badly, there will be a lot of thinking time on board the team bus to Cumbria, followed quickly by another long hike down to Cambridge.
Thankfully, in football there is always another opportunity to silence the doubters. And for Evatt it would be entirely appropriate if a re-defining moment in this tortuous season came at Holker Street.
Over the course of two seasons Evatt reunited the town of Barrow with football. He may not have had a huge budget but he was given ample time to mould the squad, finishing 11th in his first campaign and then four points clear of Harrogate in the National League by the time football was paused in March.
Wanderers’ owners had that same vision for Bolton, a club which had much repair work to complete after the damage done by the previous regime.
Evatt says he won’t compromise his footballing beliefs and remains adamant that things will click into place in the long term. But he knows full well that his team has to produce something more to back up that confidence.
Until he does, those Tuesday nights in places like Barrow will feel a few degrees cooler.
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