IT took Wanderers a while to find their identity this season and now that they have, it might just be enough to take them back to League One at the first time of asking.
One of the major factors in appointing Ian Evatt last summer was the promise that he could replicate the football he had played on a small budget at Barrow in the National League on a larger scale at Bolton.
Creating ‘Barrow-celona’ took two seasons and with the greatest of respect to the Cumbrian outfit, expectancy levels among their supporters meant the need for a finished product was nowhere near as urgent.
Settling in said system at Bolton was not without teething problems. Evatt’s side set all manner of unwanted records in the first six weeks of the campaign and by October at least a small section of the fanbase had started to question whether this was just the Emperor’s New Clothes in footballing form.
Before the style over substance argument could properly take hold, however, Evatt made some major calls on personnel and tactics. After a huge upgrade in the January window Bolton finally started playing the expansive football we had all anticipated and the personality of the team started to develop.
Now, with pressure levels so high each and every time they take to the field, that belief in ‘The System’ is starting to earn Wanderers points.
The Whites had not been especially fluent at Port Vale, or at home to Walsall, nor did they dazzle at Forest Green on Saturday. They are effective, though, and at this stage of the season that is all they will need to be.
Victory at the New Lawn was achieved with structure and organisation – not the sort of sexy traits that have tended to be associated with ‘Brand Evatt’ but definitely those which usually accompany success.
There have been a few close scrapes during this 13-game unbeaten run, where the midfield niggling of MJ Williams has been applauded just as much as a crisp Eoin Doyle finish or a mazy Dapo Afolayan run. And on Saturday, almost every Bolton player sacrificed the more skilful elements of the game in favour of defensive responsibility.
Leeds have played a similar way under Marcelo Bielsa – the players having complete faith in a system of play, regardless of scoreline. And you might well expect Bolton to do the same as time goes on.
Doyle’s goal was the one perfectly executed attacking move either side produced on the day. Otherwise, Mark Cooper could have argued legitimately that his side had played well enough to win.
There has been a perpetual feeling among the Bolton fans in the build-up to games that sooner or later someone is going to be given a real hiding – and no doubt it will surface again on Good Friday when struggling Colchester United come to the UniBol.
Evatt won’t care a jot how those wins arrive if it means his team is in the top three come May.