Advertisement

Seven things Ian Evatt has to get right at Wanderers to challenge for promotion

Wanderers fans flood the pitch after the play-off win against Barnsley - but how do Bolton get the next step right? <i>(Image: Camerasport)</i>
Wanderers fans flood the pitch after the play-off win against Barnsley - but how do Bolton get the next step right? (Image: Camerasport)

THE promotion challenge starts all over again in just one month at Wanderers but what issues does Ian Evatt have to solve in order for his side to get it right this time?

As the play-off final fades into the distance and the upset gives way to excitement for the new season, Bolton supporters are waiting to see where the alterations will be made and what will be different about their team when they next step on to the pitch.

The manager himself faces a challenge to win back any hearts and minds that have been lost and in repairing any egos that were damaged at Wembley.

We look at seven of the biggest tasks Evatt and his new-look coaching staff have to tackle in the coming weeks to make sure this promotion effort is a successful one.

Ian Evatt faces a fight to win back hearts and minds among the fanbase (Image: Camerasport)

1. Own the narrative.

Some fans will need longer than others to move on from the events of May 18 and Evatt will be well aware a poor start to the season could quickly give rise to negativity and open the door to his critics.

The Bolton boss has always been aware of his own press, the weight his words carry, and he will need to get his messaging spot on as the new campaign approaches. Whether he tones down the promotion-at-all-costs approach of last summer will be interesting to see, especially with some bigger budgets now entering the division.

Just 25 per cent of beaten play-off finalists in the last 40-odd years have managed to go up the following season, and Evatt will not want that statistic circling people’s minds as the new season gets closer.

The club as a whole can help people move on too. It has been a relative quiet summer, firstly as the emotions died down from the play-off final but latterly with the Euros distracting attention in the distance. Focus has been placed on their in-house Wanderers TV subscription service, which have offered some interesting insights from players and staff, but they do not reach the masses.

2. Be more adaptable in-game.

Flexibility has been a watch word at Wanderers already this summer and there are signs that a squad is being built with more than one formation in mind.

Evatt stuck loyally to 3-5-2 in his starting line-ups last season, give or take some toggling of the central three midfield positions, but it was in-game changes that prompted the biggest debate. Was the Bolton boss able to adapt when opponents altered their own shape?

Wembley was a big case in point. Having been unable to get quality ball to their wide players and been choked out in the middle of the park, their attempts to go more direct with Cameron Jerome and Victor Adeboyejo on the pitch in the second half fell decidedly flat.

There are signs that Evatt wants to rectify those issues this summer and give his team a fall-back option if they are frustrated in the same way again.

Wembley highlighted a few issues which had flared up for Bolton in the second half of the season (Image: Camerasport)

3. Possession with purpose.

No team scored more goals after high turnovers than Bolton last season, their press out-of-possession proving as effective as anything around.

When opponents sacrificed possession, however, there were some issues and criticism was often levelled at the team for a lack of incision and penetration. Within the Bolton camp, staff felt there was improvement on this front – and it would be foolish to claim that scoring goals was an issue for Evatt’s men – but some bad habits did resurface towards the end of the season and one of the players most likely to open doors, Paris Maghoma, is no longer at the club.

4. Fix the fitness issues.

It has sometimes felt like Bolton have suffered more injuries than anyone else in League One but realistically the two sides that got automatic promotion last season, Portsmouth and Derby County, did so with lengthy injury lists of their own.

Evatt will argue the timing of George Johnston, Dan Nlundulu, Carlos Mendes Gomes, Nathan Baxter, Ricardo Santos, Dion Charles, Randell Williams – even Paris Maghoma’s fitness problems could not have cut deeper.

Luck will always play a part to some degree, but could Bolton look at their selection policy in the cup competitions to minimise risk? Or is there something more fundamental to be changed on the training pitches of Lostock, for example?

Wanderers need a robust squad with ample cover if they are going to go a step further than they did last season.

5. Start rattling the rivals.

It is no secret that Bolton were unhappy with most results against their direct rivals last season, which led to serious doubts being cast about team’s mentality on the big occasion.

The play-off final defeat against Oxford United was obviously the headline example but Bolton had melted under pressure on other occasions too – at Portsmouth, at Derby, at Blackpool and Wigan, which in hindsight cost them automatic promotion.

Once again there are big psychological questions to be asked of this team’s ability to play under pressure, when the outcome of the game matters more than just three points. Evatt can ensure he has options, tactically, but with virtually the whole squad still in situ from last term there will have to be improvement from within too.

6. Back to a clean sheet mentality.

Nathan Baxter claimed 14 clean sheets in League One last season, with Joel Coleman adding another three, which gave Bolton the sixth-best record in the division. Overall, the Whites managed to shut their opponents out in 35 per cent of games (32 per cent at home, 38 per cent away).

Considering the injuries to Baxter, Santos and George Johnston, Gethin Jones’s international commitments in the New Year and the chopping and changing which was done either side of Christmas, the defensive return was not a disaster.

But equally, it was well down on the season before where Wanderers managed 22 clean sheets with James Trafford ever-present, totalling 45 per cent of games (58 per cent at home, 33 per cent away).

There is added competition in the goalkeeping ranks this season with the addition of Luke Southwood, so can it lead to an increase in defensive stability?

Paris Maghoma was central to Bolton's attacking strategy by the end of last season (Image: Camerasport)

7. Replace Paris.

Though Wanderers fans would dearly love to see Maghoma back in midfield this season, it has been made abundantly clear that the Brentford man will not be returning to the Toughsheet.

As last season progressed, the Whites leaned increasingly more on the 23-year-old’s dribbling and his ability to make things happen around the penalty box, not to mention the nine goals he also contributed.

Kyle Dempsey will hope Maghoma’s departure will mean more opportunities, and he too is adept at carrying the ball in a similar way. His on-field leadership skills would also be a big plus if he can claim more starts.