When Ian Evatt said defeat at Sheffield Wednesday felt like being floored in the final throes of a heavyweight boxing bout, he didn’t know how prophetic his words would end up.
At least Detonay Wilder, the man who ultimately ended up on the end of Tyson Fury’s right hook in Las Vegas, could claim to have laid a glove on his opponent during the previous 10 rounds.
The same cannot be said of the Owls, who had looked thoroughly unconvincing for more than an hour before Lee Gregory turned in a fine cross from Jack Hunt to score the game’s only goal.
Aesthetically speaking, Darren Moore’s side looked disjointed, indecisive, unimaginative at times – but with three points pocketed, the folk lifting a pint on Ecclesall Road and West Street won’t have cared a jot.
Evatt’s frustration at two key refereeing decisions – one to keep Dominic Iorfa on the pitch after a foul on Kieran Lee, the other to wave away a second half penalty and book Dapo Afolayan for diving – was completely understandable, they were the wrong calls.
But Bolton put themselves into a situation where they were left to reflect on misfortune. Once again, they were the masters of their own downfall by failing to take full advantage of the chances they create.
Few, if any, teams in League One create the standard and frequency of chances. And that is a ringing endorsement of the football Evatt has brought to Bolton in such a relatively short space of time.
Though his bold claim that the Whites “could score six” against any of the top clubs in the division feels fanciful, given they didn’t score against Sunderland, Wigan or Wednesday, it is not entirely without logic. At Hillsborough and the Stadium of Light, for example, it felt like a first domino needed to go before the rest followed.
If you subscribe to a more data-driven, analytical view, then there are attacking stats that suggest Evatt’s players are getting into the right areas, doing the right things, and that by the balance of probability it will prove successful in the long term.
Moral high ground is hard to claim on a day like this, though.
Bolton’s chief goal threat, Eoin Doyle, is going through a difficult patch and lacked real conviction when a few good chances fell his way against Wednesday.
There is a real case building that last season’s top scorer, and a man who still boasts a career record of nearly a goal every other game in this division, should be taken out of the firing line momentarily now that Amadou Bakayoko is fit again.
Doyle has been here before and will rediscover his form, but Wanderers may need to give him some help and this could be where the decision not to add another striker to their ranks in the summer costs them some ground.
The Irishman was by no means the only guilty culprit on the day. Owls old boy Elias Kachunga set the tone in the second minute when he nicked the ball from Lewis Gibson and raced in on goal. A shot was on, but he tried to roll the ball across for Doyle to tap in and ended up playing it behind his team-mate.
Throughout the game big chances went begging. Kieran Lee could have capped a good performance with a solo goal, but ran out of steam at the vital moment, Dapo Afolayan crashed a shot into the side netting, Declan John curled a free kick a few inches around the post.
Wednesday’s defenders were pressed into their own box but continually managed to get in the way, blocking two goal-bound efforts for Doyle and another from Antoni Sarcevic in the second half.
The loud home crowd at Hillsborough can be an advantage at times but when the standard of football on offer falls short of their expectation, those cavernous stands pick up every grumble and tut. And as the Owls struggled to find any rhythm to their play in the first hour, there was a very real sense that a Bolton goal could really turn the atmosphere to their own advantage.
Wednesday had broken through a couple of times – once as Saido Berahino nicked the ball from Ricardo Santos and drove a shot into the side netting, another as Gregory’s header forced Joel Dixon into a decent save. But as Moore scrambled to find the right shape to get a foothold in the game, you were begging for Bolton to give themselves a foothold.
Referee David Rock made a bold call to keep Iorfa on the pitch after the tripped Lee on the edge of the box, having already been booked for a poor challenge on MJ Wiliams.
Ian Evatt may have used a slightly stronger adjective to describe his decision to book Dapo Afolayan for diving in the second half when he looked to have been barged over in the penalty box, prompting 3,000-plus away fans into an instant appeal.
It was the wrong call. And less than two minutes later the pain was magnified as Gregory put Wednesday ahead, crashing home Hunt’s cross after Calum Paterson had won an important header against Williams.
Bolton’s fans chanted “one-nil to the referee” and Evatt looked to change things with a triple substitution. Amadou Bakayoko, Lloyd Isgrove and Josh Sheehan were introduced in the hope of giving fresh impetus but, instead, Wanderers looked a little spent for ideas.
With a lead to protect, Wednesday suddenly looked solid. And it was enough to see out a win that was celebrated joyously after six minutes of tense injury time.
Ignoring the result entirely, this was 90-odd minutes of football that showed how far Wanderers had come. The football was good to watch, inventive and relentlessly attacking.
But if you factor in the missed chances, the question marks over attacking depth and – let’s be fair – the score-line, this also shows that Bolton still have a way to go before they can genuinely be considered heavyweights.
Frustration is understandable but there should be no resentment. This is a ride we should all be enjoying.
And as Wigan Athletic come into view next weekend, I can think of no better time for Evatt and his squad to vent than 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
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