Defeat at lowly Grimsby Town need not be a season-defining moment, and should the Whites clinch an immediate return to League One over the couser of the next four games, very little thought will be given the early afternoon rough and tumble at Blundell Park.
The surprise result did, however, did raise some questions on whether some of Evatt’s most trusted lieutenants need to come out of the firing line for the next big test at home to Carlisle United on Tuesday night.
The win at Salford last Tuesday was hard-earned and coupled with the mental pressure that comes naturally with this time of year, it was clear to see from the first whistle that Wanderers were not operating at 100 per cent on Saturday lunchtime.
The team and its manager has performed minor miracles in turning around an unsatisfactory first half of the campaign to put automatic promotion in their own hands. Heck, there has even been talk of winning the title.
But Bolton’s ragged nature – both in defence and attack – at Grimsby begs a question on whether Evatt has to now ‘twist’ rather than stick with the tried-and-trusted line-up that has got him this far.
No doubt over the next few days the Bolton boss will be looking into the eyes of Eoin Doyle, Kieran Lee, Declan John, Gethin Jones, Dapo Afolayan and Co to see if they need to step aside at the UniBol, or whether an off-day in Lincolnshire really was the one-off we all hope and pray it was.
Although the form book would suggest otherwise, Grimsby’s perilous situation at the foot of League Two made them dangerous opponents. Coupled with an unpredictable pitch, an uber direct style, and a pair of strikers who could easily double as nightclub bouncers, they represent the type of opponent that Bolton have struggled to overcome convincingly this season.
The Mariners used every opportunity to feed the ball into the box for James Hanson or Lennell John-Lewis, then getting midfielders to seize on the knockdowns at breakneck speed. The policy was so effective and Bolton rendered such a spectator at times that you wondered why Paul Hurst’s side were not competing at the top end of the table, rather than looking to avoid an away game in Weymouth next season.
The trick may well have been to cut down the supply line of crosses – 28 in total from open play on the day – and in this sense you wonder if the physical exertions at Salford had slowed Bolton’s full-backs and defensive midfielders on the day.
Evatt argued after the game that his centre-halves, Santos and Baptiste, had allowed themselves to be embroiled in a physical battle, marking tight rather than making the Grimsby front two pass around them. Either way, it is a lesson to be learned with Carlisle likely to employ a similar up-and-at-them approach on Tuesday night.
To back up that theory, Wanderers had engaged in 31 attempted tackles at Salford, with just 14 in the game on Saturday.
With the ball, there were positive signs. Lloyd Isgrove was again a constant outlet on the right flank over the first 45 minutes and Evatt was right to say his team created enough chances to have grabbed at least a point, with their expected goals showing up at 1.8.
The fact Grimsby’s was way higher at 3.9 suggests the home side created more clear-cut chances, however, and after Jay Matete had sent a low shot trickling inside Matt Gilks’ right-hand post with fewer than 60 seconds on the clock, it is to their credit that the Mariners did not try and simply shut up shop.
After the opening goal the game became a long list of missed chances and superb moments of goalkeeping.
James McKeown in the home goal denied George Thomason from close range and Gilks denied Matete after he seized upon another Hanson knock-down.
Afolayan should have done better after being picked out by a low cut-back from Isgrove, sending a shot over the bar just before the interval, by which time it seemed Bolton had just about recovered their poise.
That theory was tested immediately after the break when Santos was outwrestled by Hanson and after Gilks repelled his first effort with his feet, he then got in position to make three more saves – from Harry Clifton, John-Lewis and Matete in a quite incredible 20 -second onslaught.
Kieran Lee was next up to spurn a chance, feeding on to a nice ball from Isgrove but failing to beat McKeown. At the other end the wobbliness continued, Hanson hammering a shot against the underside of the bar.
There have been times this season when the only thing Bolton could bank on was the supply of goals from Eoin Doyle but with 17 in the bank already, the Irishman has hit an ill-timed difficult patch over the last couple of games. His misfortune continued when McKeown denied him from point-blank range an hour into the game.
The Grimsby keeper followed up with another smart save from Isgrove – the commentary at this moment shifting simply between superlatives directed towards the two men with gloves on.
And to complete the set, Gilks went full-length to push away another powerful effort from John-Lewis with 25 minutes to go.
Evatt switched things around from the bench and may take some notes from the impact made by Zack Elbouzedi and Nathan Delfouneso. Shaun Miller also helped himself to a fourth goal of the season – but not before Ira Jackson Jnr had scored with virtually his first touch to make the three points safe.
Miller’s eye for goal has been a useful weapon off the bench in the last few months but it would be a surprise if Evatt has not at least considered promoting him to the starting line-up for Carlisle as his side look to bounce back immediately from defeat.
Those thoughts were no doubt already whirring around inside the manager’s mind as he stepped out of the technical area with several minutes to play, retreating to the dugout.
Whether the result ends up being a defining one for Bolton, or just discarded fish and chip paper on Cleethorpes beach front in the next few weeks remains to be seen.
Evatt has options and with luck, the impending return of Antoni Sarcevic could add to them. The question is: Does the manager stay faithful to the team which has clawed its way into the promotion battle, or look for fresh inspiration with four games to go?
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