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MARC ILES' BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Cambridge 1-1 Bolton

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

There was a lot to admire about Wanderers’ draw at Cambridge United, both in their ability to neutralise the division’s most lethal attack and to dig deep for the second time in a week to ensure they did not get back on the team bus empty handed.

Oh, that the team’s improving resilience, or a handful of hugely encouraging individual performances were all we had to discuss on a Sunday morning.

Instead, much of the overnight debate has centred on goalkeeper Billy Crellin and Ian Evatt’s choice of words in a post-match interview that once again pulled no punches.

It had indeed been a horrendous error from the Fleetwood loanee that gifted Cambridge a 72nd minute lead – a cross-shot from Jack Iredale punched at head height into the net.

And though Antoni Sarcevic rescued his team-mate’s blushes with an equaliser eight minutes from time the spotlight was always going to fall back on Crellin; we just didn’t know how brightly.

“I spoke to Billy in there and he’s a fantastic young goalie with loads of attributes and assets but we cannot afford for him to keep making mistakes,” Evatt said after the game.

“He cost us the first goal, in my opinion, at Barrow on Tuesday and maybe the second one, and then today.

“This is me saying to him publicly to man up. I have had that same conversation privately and this is a man’s game and three points are at stake. My team deserved to win today.”

Evatt intensity had rarely dropped from ‘full on’ throughout the 90 minutes of barking touchline orders, amplified by the empty stands at the Abbey Stadium. And his turbo-charged assessment caused a few jaws to drop once it hit social media.

Crellin’s form had been questioned among the Wanderers fanbase for several weeks and so the head coach’s ultimatum actually chimed with the general public mood.

In the wider world, however, two words jumped out from the transcript: “Man up”. And that might mean Evatt has some further explaining to do.

The phrase has developed negative connotations in discussions about male mental health and, in the cold light of day, was probably an unwise choice.

Evatt’s prose is often testosterone soaked. There was talk of testicles at Barrow, and several references to “playing like men” – and in this day and age, such talk can be interpreted differently.

But there should be no debate whatsoever that his words were malicious. Evatt desperately needs Crellin to be a success and it may just be that something this extreme could be the nudge he needed to find his top form.

Wanderers fans will know by now that Evatt speaks frankly. He does so with his players too, and there will always be players who respond well to that approach, and those who find it difficult to handle, just as there will be observers who agree with his words, and those who take umbrage.

The most concerning thing for Bolton is what happens if Crellin fails to find his top form.

Evatt has not even named a replacement on the bench for the last few games, and though young Matt Alexander continues to travel with the squad and completes the warm-up, he has been no more than a casual observer once the whistle goes.

Goalkeeper coach Matt Gilks is registered as a player and calls for him to don the gloves once again are starting to build.

The former Scotland international has not played since September 2019 and is understood to be reluctant to push himself forward while his young protegee Crellin is continuing to develop.

Though Evatt will have plenty to ponder on the goalkeeper front, he will take some heart from the fact most other areas of his team are showing improvement.

Defensively, the trio of Alex Baptiste, Ricardo Santos and Ryan Delaney looked sure-footed against the in-form Paul Mullin, who seemed to miss the companionship of the injured veteran playmaker Wes Hoolahan.

Harry Brockbank continued in an unfamiliar left wing-back role while both Jamie Mascoll and Liam Gordon watched on from the bench. And after looking uncomfortable at Barrow, the academy graduate acquitted himself well against the U’s.

In midfield, the decision to replace Brandon Comley with Andy Tutte paid off handsomely. Alongside captain Sarcevic, the Liverpudlian added a snap that has been missing too often this season. Second balls were contested, crosses were closed down, nothing came easy for the league leaders.

Up front, new dad Nathan Delfouneso showed how dangerous he can be dropping into pockets of space and running at defenders. He was unlucky not to finish on the scoresheet.

We wait and see what condition Eoin Doyle is in after the Irishman limped off five minutes into the second half but with Shaun Miller on the comeback trail and Arthur Gnahoua looking bright in his last two appearances, the loss may not be as devastating as it once might have been, Wanderers had a perfectly good goal ruled out in the second half when Brockbank finished off a lovely flowing move which passed through Doyle and Ali Crawford at its conclusion. Either could have pulled the trigger from close range but the extra pass proved enough for the referee’s assistant to raise his flag.

It would have been more of an injustice had Crellin’s own goal been decisive. Thankfully, Sarcevic capped a good individual performance with a piece of opportunism, his third goal of the season drilled home low from the edge of the penalty box.

It is a shame that his rescue act could did not end up being the topic of conversation, for Wanderers could use a spell where their football is actually being talked about in positive terms.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Balanced and thoughtful article I thought.

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