Ian Evatt admitted too many of his attacking players were “below par” after a bright start gave way to a second half of frustration and exasperation.
Eoin Doyle had a goal ruled out for offside – wrongly in the manager’s view – and hit the woodwork twice in an enterprising first half an hour.
But as the opponents dug their heels in and defended admirably for a point, it became clear to Evatt that he would have to write the day off and move on to Easter Monday at Newport.
“It’s frustrating and we have set high standards for ourselves,” he said after the game. “Everyone feels flat because we haven’t won a game. But we haven’t lost it, either, and we have kept another clean sheet.
“When teams come in and are playing for a point from minute one, camping in, taking time over everything – throw ins, goal kicks, corners, the first goal becomes pivotal and I think we scored a legitimate goal in the first half, which wasn’t offside.
“Those fine margins can cost you and we have been on the right side of it for a while now.
“The players, second half especially, lost a bit of belief and faith in the second half. We started forcing things when we didn’t need to because we hadn’t got that goal.
“However we dress it up, we’re disappointed because of the run we’re on, and today we probably had a few too many below par.”
Evatt made just one change from the side that beat Forest Green, adding a touch more attacking intent to the starting line-up by swapping Arthur Gnahoua for George Thomason.
And for the first 30 minutes or so, it looked for anyone’s money that the moment Bolton went ahead, they would go on to win the game comfortably.
Declan John clipped the bar with a dipping free-kick early on and was at the heart of everything the Whites were doing, going forward. He flashed a dangerous cross across goal after combining with Eoin Doyle a few moments later and then combined with Dapo Afolayan and Kieran Lee to fashion a shooting chance for MJ Williams from the edge of the box.
Wanderers looked suitably confident and were inches away from taking the lead when Afolayan played a clever angled pass for Gethin Jones on the overlap and after his cross had bounced up off a defender, keeper Dean Gerken had to punch Doyle’s header off the line.
Doyle had the ball in the net a few moments later, the linesman flagging offside after a scramble in the box in which Gnahoua’s shot was pushed away by the keeper and Jones’ follow up bounced off the bar.
Evatt later maintained the goal should have stood – and that the officials had wrongly flagged Jones offside. In the melee it was difficult to see how the linesman had a clear view of the incident at all.
It seemed only a matter of time before the Whites forged ahead but without warning the tempo of their football changed on the half-hour. Mistakes started to creep in, and Colchester ended the half as the team with momentum.
Gnahoua became isolated on the right as Bolton began to struggle to build play through midfield, their passing too slow to cause the U’s any great problems.
By contrast, the lively Courtney Senior started to grow into the game for Hayden Mullins’ side and though he was lucky to escape punishment for a laughable dive, he looked the one player on the pitch likely to make something out of nothing.
Matt Gilks remained untested but had to watch Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu into the side netting just before half-time as the passing became downright sloppy from Evatt’s men.
The Wanderers boss gave it 10 minutes after the interval to see if there was any reaction from his half time words but, if anything, Colchester grew in confidence, earning a succession of corners.
They might have grabbed a lead too, had Noah Chilvers managed to keep his shot down after Williams’ clearance fell nicely for him 12 yards out.
Evatt called for the cavalry off the bench, bringing on Marcus Maddison and Zack Elbouzedi, and then Shaun Miller a few minutes later. Wanderers struggled to regain their early tempo, though, and with Colchester slowing play down at every chance the seconds seemed to tick down faster as he implored his players to pick up the pace from the touchline.
Another series of corners for the visitors ramped up the levels of pressure far beyond anything the visitors could have possibly expected in the first half.
If we know anything about his Bolton side, though, it is that they do finish games strongly. And with just five minutes left Elbouzedi broke up a counter, turned and curled a shot that was clawed away by the sprawling keeper Gerken.
Sensing they had one last chance, Wanderers pushed on and Miller should have done better when John’s corner landed at his feet at the far post, his shot proving a simple one for Gerken to handle.
Even Alex Baptiste got in on the action during injury time, scuffing a volley at goal that again landed favourably for the U’s keeper.
“If one of those goals in the first half goes in it becomes a different game – they come out and we can pick them off,” Evatt reasoned, “but we have to find more solutions and be better at what we do. Kicking it long and rushing is not going to help us. It is what these teams want.
“We have to move, we have to be better and braver with what we do.”
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