There won’t be any statement of concession from the Wanderers camp until the play-off chase is mathematically impossible – but signs of compromise will be easy to spot.
Though Ian Evatt can look forward to a well-deserved first summer holiday since taking charge at Bolton nearly two years ago, he is unlikely to stand for any drop in standards in the final stretch of the season.
With 24 points at stake the minimum target for the Whites must be to finish top of an eight-game table and give fans every possible reason to be optimistic about 2022/23.
In the last 10 years, 21 clubs have managed to register 50 points of more after promotion from League Two after playing 38 games. Luton Town, who went up as champions in 2018/19 managed a mammoth 80 by this stage, and 94 by the end of the season.
The average number of points for a promoted side over the last decade is 61 – well within Bolton’s grasp. On 15 occasions, a team has secured a top 10 finish after escaping League Two, averaging a healthy 75.6 points.
A top-10 finish after promotion from League Two would be considered a step forward by most supporters, especially if that can be combined with a result at Wigan Athletic on April 2. But keeping performance levels high will now be a challenge for Evatt and his staff after the short-term pain of dropped points against Plymouth Argyle and Morecambe.
Evatt has already hinted that there had been a slight dip from his strikers on the training ground, which has manifested itself on matchday in the form of missed chances.
For other players who played on through a troubled October, November and December there may also be physical reasons why performances could plateau at this time of the year.
But after seeing a play-off dream effectively dashed within a week, the psychological response from the Wanderers dressing room will be an interesting one indeed as they travel to Crewe along with a big away following on Saturday.
Bolton fans need not cast their mind back too far to know how quickly a promising season can go into reverse, and then affect the following campaign.
Just over a decade ago, Owen Coyle’s side had knocked on the door of the Premier League’s top six and progressed to the semi-final stage of the FA Cup.
Stuart Holden’s injury at Manchester United is often picked out as the ‘turning point’ of that campaign and a month later the 5-0 defeat against Stoke City at Wembley proved the first of a series of calamitous events which resulted in relegation a year later.
Just as some clubs enjoy the promotion bounce, a loss of momentum can also affect the following season. Regardless of whether a play-off place is theoretically still possible, effort must now be channelled into making sure winning habits are carried through to the next campaign.
Success and failure for Bolton this season has been relatively cut and dry. They have won each of the 12 games that they have scored the first goal and are the only team in the whole of League One with a 100 per cent record on that front.
By comparison, Wanderers have fallen behind on 25 occasions this season, which given their reasonable league position is quite some feat. Only Wimbledon, Crewe, Fleetwood and Doncaster have found themselves behind more often – the only difference being that Evatt’s men have recovered an impressive 18 points, the third-highest total in the division.
Evatt has called for his side to be more clinical but the stats also show that Bolton have been slow to warm up in front of goal, averaging 1.6 shots on target per game in the first half (16th out of 24 teams), compared with 2.8 (second to Portsmouth) in the second half.
That slow first half has also been evident in conceding goals. Only Cambridge United have leaked more goals inside the first 15 minutes and only Burton have shipped more in the opening half an hour. Food for thought as Evatt shapes his side for the run-in.
Meanwhile, Wanderers’ League One game at Wigan Athletic on April 2 will now kick off at the earlier time of 12.30pm.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]