Since the turn of the 1995/96 campaign there have been 19 different goalkeepers who have turned out for Wanderers in league or play-off football. And of those, the most established trio of Jussi Jaaskelainen, Adam Bogdan and Ben Alnwick account for 67.4 per cent games played during that time.
Bolton’s reputation for spotting goalkeeping talent echoes back a lot further, of course, be it in the form of the twenties legend, Dick Pym, or someone closer to home like record appearance maker, Eddie Hopkinson.
But since the great Keith Branagan passed on the goalkeeping torch to Jaaskelainen at the turn of the millennium there has rarely been an occasion, like now, where such consternation exists among supporters about the future of the position.
Fleetwood Town loanee Billy Crellin has been Ian Evatt’s first choice keeper since the start of the season but his inconsistent form has raised questions among supporters on whether the 20-year-old should be taken out of the spotlight.
Evatt has voiced his own concerns about high-profile mistakes which have impacted upon Bolton’s season and though he went to great lengths to underline that his goalkeeper is not the only reason for the team’s disappointing start, he accepted there was a decision to be made as preparations begin for Friday night’s meeting with Salford City.
The stats underline what a difficult start it has been for the Blackpool-born stopper.
Crellin has conceded 17 goals in League Two, the fourth highest in the division. He stands fifth in the list of most goals per 90 minutes, averaging 1.55.
The youngster has faced 34 shots on target this season (14th in the league), leaving him with a save ratio of 0.5 (50 per cent), which is the lowest of any player who has featured in more than seven games for their club this season. That total does, however, include two penalty saves against Bradford and Leyton Orient.
Evatt wanted to review Saturday’s game and consult his backroom staff before making any definitive statement on possible changes for the Salford game but it is known that goalkeeper coach Matt Gilks has increased his training workload in the last few weeks, with a view to potentially returning in a playing capacity.
The former Scotland international, now 38, has not played competitively since September 2019 when he featured for Fleetwood in the EFL Trophy against Liverpool’s Under-21s. He did, however, train with Joey Barton’s side right up to their play-off semi-final defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in July.
The other alternative available to Evatt would be Matt Alexander, who made two appearances last season, keeping a memorable clean sheet against Coventry City.
The academy graduate was recently described as “not quite ready for regular first team football” by his manager but is understood to have progressed well since the start of the season and was earmarked for a loan move until recently.
Whatever decision Evatt makes on Friday it is difficult to remember an occasion when Bolton’s goalkeeping position has been placed under such scrutiny.
Fans with longer memories may recall a time at the turn of 2001 when Jussi Jaaskelainen suffered a devastating knee injury at Tranmere Rovers, plunging the club into panic.
Ordinarily, Steve Banks would have proved a capable understudy but when he was red carded at QPR, Sam Allardyce was forced to act quickly, signing Northern Irishman Tommy Wright on loan from Manchester City.
The Blues then denied Wright permission to play in the FA Cup, leaving Allardyce to seek yet another emergency measure in giant American keeper, Jurgen Sommer. Incredibly, he then picked up an injury early in the fifth round tie against Blackburn but had to continue as Bolton – who were also unable to recall Matt Glennon from a loan spell at Carlisle – had no replacement on the bench.
Even when Banks and Wright became available, Wanderers’ results started to slip and the dependency they had on Jaaskelainen began to show.
Allardyce tried desperately to bring in a more permanent measure, testing the water with bids for Chelsea’s Ed De Goey, Chelsea’s Dimitri Kharine and Everton’s Thomas Myhre before finally landing Matt Clarke from Bradford.
And it would be Clarke who played in all three play-off games, picking up a winner’s medal against Preston North End in the final.
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