Preview: Bolton Wanderers

Given that most, myself included, were expecting to be hammered by Peterborough on New Year’s Eve, to have taken a point is a big step forwards, even if it should really have been all three. With Russell Slade having added some much-needed experience and presence to the team in Nathan Clarke and Stuart Beavon, there is a level of excitement heading into what is a difficult upcoming game against Bolton.

However, this is a really daunting challenge against a physical and direct Bolton side who have found excellent form in recent weeks. Coming just two days after our last game and with the three new faces only having had one day of training to integrate into the team, anything we get out of this game is probably a bonus, although we need to start getting wins as soon as possible.

Of the three new signings, Nathan Clarke seems the likeliest to come straight into the side, despite having not started a league game all season. After Lewis Page hobbled off against Peterborough, we’re short in numbers in defence, which probably means Clarke will play alongside Jordan Turnbull at centre-back with Jordan Willis moving to right-back and Jamie Sterry switching to left-back. Alternately, Ryan Haynes could slot in ahead of Jamie Sterry in that left-back position.

Possible Line-Up
Possible Line-Up

Given that we could be playing much of this game without the ball, Stuart Beavon’s work-rate could be a valuable asset as a lone striker in this game. With Reid’s pace on the counter-attack and George Thomas and Andy Rose capable of getting up to support, Beavon could be a useful foil in attack in this game.

With Chris McCann having returned to his parent club, Callum Reilly could also be in line for his debut, although he’s hardly a like-for-like replacement. Gael Bigirimana may possibly come into the team instead of Reilly, but I wonder whether his manic style of play quite suits what Russell Slade wants from his midfielders, Bigi could possibly be another surprise departure in this January transfer window.

Last Time We Met

We last played Bolton towards the end of November, just when it was becoming painfully obvious that Mark Venus wasn’t going to cut it as our manager. Off the back of an utter tonking at Oxford, Venus switched to a back three and Bolton took advantage of our defensive disorganisation to score early on through Zach Clough. After switching back to a back four, the second-half was slightly better, but not good enough to earn us a share of the points at the Macron Stadium.

How Are They Doing?

Following a 2-1 home win over Scunthorpe on New Year’s Eve, Bolton have moved into the automatic promotion places and are starting to move up through the gears after a start to the season that has endured a few teething problems at times. The Trotters have arguably the strongest squad in the division, and that quality is starting to tell as the season prepares to enter its decisive stage.

As ever with Phil Parkinson, the game-plan is simple, but has been effective for much of the campaign. They look to physically dominate the opposition before bombarding them with long balls towards a big target-man up-front. With the quality that Bolton have in the final third, it’s probably not the worst idea to supply them with the ball in that area of the pitch as often as possible.

With two giants in David Wheater and Mark Beevers at the back, Bolton have a solid platform to build on, and pose a sizeable threat from set-pieces. Those set-pieces are generally taken by ex-Liverpool man Jay Spearing, who is also part of an aggressive and energetic midfield partnership with homegrown kid Josh Vela., who has scored five league goals this season, several of them some wonderful long-range howitzers.

Gary Madine is the side’s target-man in attack, which is interesting as I felt his hold-up play was a flaw in his game when he was with us briefly two seasons ago. However, Madine seems to be doing a decent job of it this season for Bolton, as he currently has five goals and two assists to his name. Phil Parkinson can also call upon Jamie Proctor on the bench to give Madine a rest in that target-man role as the game wears on.

Possible Line-Up
Possible Line-Up

Likely to partner Madine in attack for Bolton is the wunderkind Zach Clough, who has shown this season why he has been so highly-rated in his career thus far. A small, quick and technically skilful forward, who you wouldn’t imagine would flourish in such a route-one side, Clough has benefited from the amount of second-balls Bolton win to lead the club’s scoring charts this season with seven goals.

The other man to watch out for is Sammy Ameobi, who is one of those attacking players who’ll frustrate the life out of you for most of the game, before flickering into life and producing something truly extraordinary. There’s also Wolves loanee James Henry to look out for, who is a typical touch-line hugging winger with excellent delivery, who has been in and out of the team this season, but on his day is Championship quality.


As exciting as it is to see that Russell Slade has moved so quickly in the transfer market to address some serious issues in this squad, it shouldn’t be forgotten that we’re up against one of the division’s best teams and Slade has only had one training session to integrate the new faces into the squad. Like in the past two games, I would imagine that the focus will be on keeping a clean sheet first and then seeing what we might be able to nick at the other end of the pitch.

Bolton boast the division’s best defensive record, which will make the task of nicking a goal or two on the counter rather difficult. This is probably not going to be a great game and one that Bolton will win 1-0.

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