No team in League Two has been more vulnerable outside open play than Ian Evatt’s Whites this season, a fact cruelly exposed on Tuesday night as Morecambe dragged themselves level at the UniBol in the dying embers of the game.
The problem has not been lost on the manager, who admits his team can ill-afford to keep giving away so many simple goals if they are to start moving up the table any time soon.
“You can practice set pieces, and we do, but really it comes down to whether one player wants to get to the ball ahead of the man against them,” he said. “Do you want to stick your head in where it hurts? Will you do all you can to either score and beat your marker, or stop that man scoring?
“We haven’t done it well enough all season and set pieces have cost us massively.
“If you look at the goals we have scored from open play, it’s a highlight reel. How many times do you see sides at this level string 10, 12, 15, 20 passes together? Not many.
“We can. But we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by conceding from set pieces and also not scoring enough. We have done some work on stats this week and we concede from one in 21 corners, and score from one in 60. And that is not good enough.
“If we improve on that I am sure we can fly up this league but we have to find different ways of scoring goals. We can’t always play beautiful football through lines, string passes together, sometimes we need that scrappy one-nil, like the Cheltenham game, where we defended our box well.
“On that night we got a set piece in the last minute, Rico won the first header, Ryan got the second phase. You can win games that way as well.”
Evatt insists work has been done on the training ground on set piece drills but says he has prioritised other aspects in the past. That may well be about to change, with evidence to suggest his brand of football is now starting to bed down, there may be more scope to concentrate on the finer details.
Only Forest Green (252) have mustered more shots from open play than Wanderers’ 245 in League Two this season, whereas from set pieces their attacking returns are in the bottom three in the division.
Defensively, more than half of the 38 goals Bolton have conceded this season have been in the first or second phase of a set piece, making them the most vulnerable side in the division.
“If it was purely down to open play and you couldn’t score from set pieces, I think we’d be top of the league,” Evatt admitted. “We create a lot of chances in open play but from set pieces we just have not been good enough and other teams play for them.
“How many times did we see on Tuesday night a ball get played down the channel, there’s a little tiny bit of contact and then the player is down on the floor, the others are surrounding the referee. That is an advantage gained because they know it has been our Achilles Heel this season, they are not stupid.
“Their strength and our Achilles Heel married together mean they are probably going to score, and that is what happened.
“We have to have more desire to head the ball in both boxes. We will work at it on the training field but it comes down to attitude to score or stop them scoring.”