Ian Evatt joked that some of his players’ lockdown haircuts are now wild enough that they should have no trouble putting their head on the ball when the Yorkshiremen come to town on Saturday for their first-ever visit to the UniBol.
No team in League Two has won more in the air or put more crosses into the penalty box than Simon Weaver’s Harrogate, who have fared well in their first season in the Football League.
The game promises to be a clash of cultures but having seen Kieran Lee miss a glorious headed chance at Newport on Easter Monday, Evatt told his players who to blame for extra heading practice.
“Some of the players enjoy the heading drills and some of them definitely done – but I told them if they have a headache then you have got Kieran to thank,” said the Bolton boss.
“We’re expecting a few balls in the box, in fact I think that is why a lot of the lads haven’t had a haircut so it can absorb some of the blow.
“We needed the practice at both ends. We know Harrogate are direct, they are physical, they are good at all that stuff and we need to make sure we do that side of the game well. Then we need to make sure we have the quality, intensity and movement to cause them problems.”
If defeat at Newport took the gloss off Wanderers’ recent electric form, the good mood appeared to have returned at the training ground on Thursday morning.
“You’ve all seen George Thomason’s hair – Matt Gilks has been calling him a centurion all day because his hairdo has grown into the shape of a helmet,” Evatt divulged, before moving on to more mundane matters.
“We’re all disappointed but I think we have to put the disappointment into context. I’d be a lot more worried, and I’d expect Bolton fans to be a lot more worried, if we hadn’t played as well as we did and not created what we have done.
“The fact that we had created so much more than we have done for a long, long time - I think our expected goals on Monday was well over three, which is probably the highest of the season.
“I know that if we play like that and create that many chances, we will take them over the course of these next seven games and the results will be different. For whatever reason it just didn’t pan out that way on Monday.”
Whereas there were major questions being asked of the Bolton defenders when they last met Harrogate in October after a winless start, a quick refresher course was all that was needed for Evatt to bring them up to speed for this weekend.
“The players should take a lot of credit for that because they have had to put their head where it hurts,” he said of their improvement in the second half of the season.
“We openly admit we would like to score more from our own set pieces. We probably don’t put our head in enough in the opposition box.
“Defending, we have found some solutions. But we can’t take them for granted.
“On Saturday you got a free-kick that was unfairly given and with one ricochet the ball ends up in the back of the net, and it can happen in any game.
“Being a former centre-back I get frustrated, as our defenders do, because there is nothing more hurtful than watching your team miss chance after chance. You know the one mistake you make as a centre-half will usually end up in the back of the net. People remember that and not the missed chances.
“The forwards sometimes get an easy ride and are allowed to miss chances. I don’t think they should be though, because we need them to score those chances to allow defenders to be calm in their defending.
“The goalkeeper, the back four, the two holding midfielders – the whole team, in fact – has defended well. Our high press on Monday was excellent and we need to see more of that in the closing seven games.”
According to Whoscored.com, Wanderers have scored just five goals from set pieces in League Two this season – the joint-lowest total in the division alongside Salford City and Colchester United.
Though Evatt’s side has found a way to score a division-high 75 per cent of its goals from open play, he admits there is room for improvement.
“We would like to score more,” he said. “We’re looking for the solutions and the opportunities to score more.
“We have a variety of set pieces we work on, sometimes it is short, sometimes it is in the box, and it is then about executing it on the day. We haven’t well enough and we know it is an area we have to improve.
“There is work to be done and we will continue to work hard.
“It comes down to personnel. Have we got the type of player who is going to go and butt someone in the head and take 20 stitches in his eye to score a goal? Probably not.
“But have we got a player who can bring a ball down, step into midfield, ping it left, right or centre and create an attack? Yes.
“If you combine the two together then you have a Championship or Premier League player but you have to remember we are in League Two, so you can’t have it all.
“We had to find different ways to score. Set pieces are a frustration to me because we don’t do well enough or score enough from them but it is not for the lack of trying.”