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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Can the easier life begin at 40 for Ian Evatt?

Can the easier life begin at 40 for Ian Evatt?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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There are better ways to spend your 40th birthday than raking through the wreckage of your worst defeat at a football manager.

Nevertheless, that is what Ian Evatt will be doing today as he tries to pick his Wanderers side up off their haunches after a bitterly disappointing performance at Stockport in the FA Cup.

Embarrassed on the national stage, knocked out by non-league opponents for the first time in 110 years, having twice held a two-goal lead at Edgeley Park, the result cut way deeper than a normal cup exit.

Evatt bemoaned the lack of on-pitch leadership on the night, the inability to match up to supposedly lesser players in the basic processes of the game, his pride clearly stung by such a public humiliation.

But what will hurt him more than anything is the knowledge that on Wednesday night his team looked exactly like the thing he hates the most, a soft touch.

For all the frilly talk of Brand Evatt and the modern, expansive football played at Bolton – of rotations, high presses and passing patterns – the manager will readily have it known that the whole system is underpinned by the kind of game you learn on the playground.

Who knows what statistical measure is used to rank work-rate, organisation or old fashioned-guts, but the team which skulked off the pitch in midweek with tails between their legs had none of it, out-fought by a club which sits two divisions beneath.

It is not the first time the blueprint’s fragility has been cruelly exposed. It happened a few times in the first half of last season, and again in last month’s meltdowns against Wigan Athletic and Plymouth Argyle.

Each storm tends to pass. And though the presence of the BBC cameras magnified hurt felt by supporters, it is safe to say the result will not have any great material effect on Wanderers’ future as, say, the FA Cup semi-final against Stoke City in 2011, or the play-off defeat against Aldershot Town in 1987 might have done.

To give the situation some much-needed perspective, the club still sit relatively comfortably in 11th spot in League One going into a game against Wycombe, and still have a shot at going to Wembley in the Papa John’s Trophy.

But that is not to play down the job Evatt now has on his hands to patch-up his team in the space of 48 hours and ensure a bad result is not compounded by another.

Wycombe have been strong at home this season, winning six of their eight games at Adams Park and averaging 14.6 shots per game – a total bettered only by Rotherham United. And if Bolton are in any doubt as to what type of game they will face, the Chairboys have also both won – and lost – the most aerial challenges in League One.

Already smarting from a sense of injustice that they should not have lost their place in the Championship, Gareth Ainsworth’s side will have lapped up every moment of the 120 minutes against the Hatters as their next opponents’ confidence and energy sapped before their eyes.

Anyone expecting Evatt to change tack, slip into a more defensive mindset to try and mitigate damage or protect confidences in his camp are almost certainly mistaken. The Bolton boss remains fully committed to the notion that if his team concedes a goal, they will score two.

Whether he has enough quality within his squad to be so bullish in those beliefs is another matter altogether, particularly given injury problems that have mounted up in the last few games.

Promotion last season was built on a post-January run of clean sheets, with an impressive 13 recorded in 21 games, eight of which were won with a solitary goal.

This time around, games involving Wanderers average more goals than any other team in the division (2.94). Of the three clean sheets earned, two were at home against teams with limited attacking scope in Burton Albion and Crewe Alexandra. Only the win at Lincoln City felt like it conjured anything of the same defensive spirit of the promotion campaign.

And while Evatt correctly pointed out that clean sheets do not win you games – and can theoretically still get you relegated – the correlation between success and defensive resilience is still pretty well defined.

Finding more of a balance on Saturday might make it a little easier to celebrate.

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

He's only 40? Bloody hell.

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