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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Suzanne's BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Cheltenam 1-1 Bolton

Suzanne's BIG-MATCH VERDICT: Cheltenam 1-1 Bolton

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

It almost didn’t matter that it was Tranmere. Almost.

The statistics made painful enough reading as it was, without the significance of the opposition. No wins in six, a 15th game from 24 where Wanderers have conceded first - and have not won any of them - and one of the leakiest defences in League Two.

The fact that an extension of their poor run occurred against their bitter rivals and the manager that Ian Evatt succeeded, conceding the double... well, that just rubbed salt into the wounds.

There are signs that these wounds can be healed. With more favourable refereeing decisions, for which Evatt got into trouble at full-time for suggesting, it could have been a different game.

And Wanderers played well in patches, as they have in most games this season. Even with 10 men, after Ryan Delaney was sent off for two second half yellow cards, there were chances. Substitute Alex Baptiste's low shot on the turn was well saved by Scott Davies.

But these bright spells are all too intermittent, and not sustained for long enough to have an influence on the outcome at the moment.

It is perhaps no surprise really, given that Evatt was practically starting from scratch when he took on the job in the summer and had to build a squad quickly. In the midst of a pandemic, they have not been able to get away properly together as a new-look squad to have those intense training camps, to form those vital team bonds. They have had to learn and grow as they go - week to week, game to game.

There was a stage in November when it all appeared to have clicked. A five-game unbeaten run in November, including four wins, earned Evatt the manager of the month prize.

But the so-called curse struck when they were rocked by a 6-3 home defeat to Port Vale at the start of December, and bar a late win over Cheltenham they have not recovered.

Defeat at home to Tranmere in the next game sparked the latest spiral.

But Evatt has enough faith in his players to see a way out. He just needs time, but that is the most precious commodity in football and with games against form team Mansfield to come tomorrow followed my top-seven challengers Leyton Orient, Salford City and Morecambe in the next 15 days, the challenge is not getting any easier.

"The results aren't there at the moment and it's really disappointing," said the Bolton boss. "I'd be having a lot of headaches if I thought we were getting what we deserved. At the minute, I don't think there's anybody who can look at the games we're playing and think we deserve to lose or deserve not to be getting better results, so we have to stick at it, stick together and keep working hard."

They have made harder work for themselves, though, in the manner in which they have started games.

On the 15 occasions they have conceded the first goal, eight of them have come in the opening 15 minutes. They are giving themselves far too much to do.

It took Tranmere just over three minutes to find a way through.

Danny Lloyd had already fired a warning shot that dropped harmlessly wide of Matt Gilks' goal, but then when Tranmere made inroads again, Delaney couldn't deal with it and this time Lloyd got a better connection and fired across Gilks and into the bottom left corner.

To their credit Wanderers regrouped pretty quickly after that. It is, after all, a situation they have become frustratingly accustomed to.

After Zack Elbouzedi tracked back well to thwart Lloyd again at one end, Antoni Sarcevic went up to the other soon after but put his shot into the empty stand.

Ricardo Santos had to mop up his own mistake after an attempted square pass drifted away from Ali Crawford was seized on by former Everton forward James Vaughan, and the centre half stood firm to thwart Kaiyne Woolery soon after.

Wanderers worked the ball out from the back but the final ball to Eoin Doyle was lacking, and they failed to capitalise on a succession of corners.

Lloyd Isgrove tried his luck from distance but could not test Davies, while another chance dropped for Lloyd to make it 2-0 before the break but he fired wide of the near left post.

Evatt brought on Arthur Gnahoua at the start of the second half and the French forward made a strong case for starting with the way he brought Bolton to life.

But a Tranmere penalty, after Delaney was judged to have fouled Liam Feeney in the process of him having a good shot well saved by Gilks, followed by Manny Monthe going unpunished and Delaney receiving a second yellow ultimately killed Wanderers' challenge.

The penalty, converted by Feeney at a time when Bolton are statistically most likely to concede, proved decisive in the end. But the Sarcevic incident was pivotal.

Wanderers' skipper had pulled a goal back after turning in Doyle's low centre from close range and looked to get forward again when he was hauled back by Monthe.

The defender had already been needlessly booked in the first half for dragging the ball away and delaying a Wanderers' free kick, but despite Monthe denying Sarcevic a path to goal, referee Neil Hair failed to penalise him. Instead it was Delaney who got a second yellow for catching Vaughan in the face with his arm when he competed for a header.

Evatt had every right to be angry, but he insists he did not overstep the mark when he questioned the incident at the time to the fourth official, or at full time when he approached the referee.

Wanderers still managed to carve out chances despite being a man short, but their challenge fell short in the end.

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