Put quite simply, Wanderers’ recent record in cup football is miserable.
Since the club dropped out of the Premier League in 2012 they have only twice managed to string back-to-back wins together in the same competition, reaching the third round of the League Cup in 2014/15 and 2017/18.
For the last two seasons they have exited both knockout cups at the earliest possible opportunity, as league football took sober precedence.
Even after Ian Evatt’s ultra-ambitious if highly unlikely claim that Wanderers should be looking to win last season’s Carabao Cup they slumped to a first round defeat against Bradford City last September. A couple of months later – and with Bolton sitting 20th in League Two with two wins from 11 games – they succumbed at home to Crewe despite a brace from Nathan Delfouneso.
The ever-aspirational Evatt has already signalled he will be making changes for the visit of Championship side Barnsley but his squad now looks deep enough to accomplish that without damaging the overall quality of the team significantly.
Wanderers’ historical record in the cups is solid. The recenty-released book, FA Cup 150 by Phil Annets lists the club as the 14th strongest FA Cup side of all-time, with four glorious wins and seven finals under its belt in the competition. And no Bolton supporter needs to be reminded that they were denied an eighth final appearance on a dismal day against Stoke City some 10 years ago.
The League Cup as been a crueller mistress. Bruce Rioch’s team were bettered by Liverpool in 1995, and Sam Allardyce’s side by Middlesbrough in 2004. They also reached the semi-finals in 1976/77 under Ian Greaves as a second division side before being edged out over two legs by Everton.
Wanderers also lifted the Sherpa Van Trophy in 1989, finishing as runners-up to Bristol City three years earlier. Later incarnations of the competition, now sponsored by Papa Johns Pizza, have been less successful.
For a club with such a rich heritage as knockout kings – not to mention the White Hot nights of the mid-90s – the passion for cup football appears to have waned with Wanderers’ fading fortunes.
Evatt recognises the shift in mood but would dearly love to do something about it against Barnsley tonight.
“I don’t know what has happened to cup football, is the honest answer,” he told The Bolton News.
“The rewards for the league campaign are that big that teams tend not to want to risk important players in this type of game. For lesser opposition the chances of winning the competition are next to nothing, very slim, so some managers might think ‘what’s the point?’ Maybe you are better off not having fixture congestion?
“I don’t feel like that. Winning games is a habit and it can only increase confidence and morale levels with the players and the fanbase.
“We want to win. We want to attack it and do the best we can.”
Wanderers have gone out in the first round in five of the last six seasons, which has further diminished the passion for cup football on the terraces.
“It isn’t a good habit to get into,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to sit here and preach that I am not bothered about the cup. I am bothered. I want us to do well.
“Whether we do or not will be decided tomorrow night. It is a tough game but we won’t take our foot off the gas, we want the right result.”