After his side found themselves on the end of a 12th round right hook at Hillsborough, Ian Evatt is anxious to avoid a scrap against Wigan Athletic.
Stunned by Lee Gregory’s winner seven days ago for the Owls after 90 minutes of near domination, the Bolton boss wants to make sure today’s game is played on his own terms.
Back in August, the Whites bowed out of the Carabao Cup on penalties at Wigan after what became a scrappy and fractious affair, and one which has been reviewed this week at Lostock as Evatt and his side look to get back to winning ways.
The boxing analogies have returned, only this time Wanderers aim to ensure it is their arm raised at the final whistle.
“Connor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match and that played into Mayweather’s strengths, he was always going to lose that. If it was in a cage, you’d say he would have won,” Evatt reflected.
“We have to make Wigan play to our strengths because that is what football is, play to strengths, hide your deficiencies. We want it to be a football game, open and expansive, because if we’re at our best then I think we can get a good result.
“The saying is we want fire in our bellies and ice in our veins and that is how we have to play, really. That is what we are as a football team. We obviously are high intensity and high tempo, in and out of possession, but it is about that switch from being composed on regains, on transitions, and then finding the right passes and the right decisions.
“Saturday will highlight that because it will be an emotional encounter, but we have to be calm and composed. That’s the way we play football.”
Composure was one quality lacking last weekend in South Yorkshire and if there is a criticism to be aimed at Wanderers after returning to League One this season, it is that they have often not taken advantage of their enterprising build-up, translating it into goals.
Evatt’s claim that his side could have scored “four, five or six” goals per game this season was greeted with a measure of derision in Wigan or Sunderland – but the Bolton boss has firm belief that his team will continue to create chances, even if he is at a loss to explain why on some weeks they seem incapable of finishing them off.
“When you look at the data and reflect back on the games they have been similar, it is just that some days we take our chances and some days we don’t,” he said.
“I genuinely feel like we are that type of team that if we get one we’re likely to get a lot more because the confidence increases.
“When you are creating chances and had a few dodgy results on the back of missing them, sometimes the players can become a bit panicky, rushed, and so it is about keeping them composed. If you miss one, believe you will score the next.
“We need that focus because the minute that defenders begin to get panicky because centre forwards are missing chances, you can get done the other end and lose the game 1-0. It is all about belief, keep doing what we’re doing, we’re creating chances we just need to take them. I strongly believe we will.”
Nobody incurred the wrath of Wanderers’ social media frustration quite like striker Eoin Doyle last weekend, as he registered a fifth game without a goal, missing some big chances along the way.
The Irishman has never gone six games without scoring in a Bolton shirt but actually registered eight blanks in a row for Swindon Town in 2019/20 – a campaign in which he scored 25 times in 29 appearances for the Robins as they romped to promotion from League Two.
Evatt believes the lack of a midweek game, and subsequently more time with his players at Lostock, could help Doyle and co to refocus their collective sights.
“I have massive belief in them all and Eoin needs as much support as anyone else,” he said. “He is an experienced player and he has got a fantastic goalscoring record but sometimes you have these runs. I believe in him and he certainly believes in himself.
“Sometimes it is training too. When you play Saturday-Tuesday the time on the grass isn’t easy to come by. This week we have had time to work on things and go into a bit of finer detail in the final third.
“The problem we have is yes we can work on the build phase, the middle phase and how we get there but it is hard to replicate that final third detail when you are playing in big stadia, against top sides.
“All we can do is give them pictures, some detail, and then hopefully on Saturday they make the right decisions and take the chances.
“The most important thing is that they are creating them.”
The first league game between Bolton and Wigan was played as recently as Boxing Day 1983, when Jeff Chandler scored the only goal at the Latics’ old Springfield Park.
Since then, neither side has been able to claim dominance in the derby and the record now stands intriguingly balanced at 17 wins apiece, with 14 draws. The return fixture on April 2 will be the 50th time the fixture has been contested.
Evatt sampled a few different derbies in his playing days and believes there is a universal truth that the team who keeps their cool is usually the one who takes the points.
“I played against Forest for Derby, Preston for Blackpool, Mansfield for Chesterfield – they are all different types of derby but if you ask their sets of supporters it all means the same thing,” he said.
“They are high intensity, high demand, there can be nerves and you have to channel that the right way, especially the type of team we are.
“We have to be composed and not get overawed with the emotion of the day.”
All that being said, Evatt cannot help but allow his thoughts to drift to what he would do if he was in the Bolton side this afternoon.
“I don’t miss playing one bit, I have always said that I prefer being a manager, but days like this you wish you could put your boots and your pads on again and go and test out some of their shin pads too,” he smiled.
“It is my job to prepare them properly then they have to get the job done Saturday.”