It may have taken five months but it appears Bolton Wanderers have finally arrived this season. A host of changes to playing staff and a change in the dugout have taken their time to settle and a fantastic February has propelled the Trotters into the promotion race.
Bolton Wanderers Well Among League Two Promotion Race
Five Straight Wins Has Bolton Full of Confidence
Ian Evatt’s side has won six of their last seven league games including five straight wins across February. 16 points collected from their six February matches with a draw against Morecambe their only blot in what’s been an excellent month.
The Trotters now find themselves in the League Two play-offs and they will be determined to maintain their place. Automatic promotion is very much within reach too if Bolton can maintain this kind of form for the remainder of the season.
A season that started extremely slowly has burst into life with a terrific run of results for Bolton Wanderers. The Trotters for much of this season have languished in the bottom half of the table but a revival of form has sparked a promotion bid as Bolton finally live up to their pre-season tag as promotion favourites.
It was always going to take time for Bolton to click but it appears they have found a settled side and are firmly in the groove. Their good run began in late January with an excellent win against Leyton Orient. The momentum from that match has carried into February. The month started with a draw against high flying Morecambe. Since then, wins against Stevenage, Mansfield Town, Southend United, Scunthorpe United and Barrow have followed.
Perhaps the biggest of the lot was the comeback at Field Mill. Mansfield were two goals up with fifteen minutes to play but Bolton rallied back to win 3-2 thanks to late goals. This was a win that really instilled confidence and belief into the Bolton players.
Credit is due to the club for sticking by Ian Evatt; he appears to have the Bolton team playing how he wants them too. The club easily could have dismissed Evatt after winning just two of their opening 11 league games. Overall, Bolton won just seven of their opening 24 games.
However, persistence has paid off and Bolton are very much promotion contenders now. They will be fully aware they have to keep winning because many of their promotion rivals have games in hand on them.
A Settled Defence and Formation Has Seen The Trotters Click Into Gear
Ian Evatt tried to persist with the back three system which brought him promotion at Barrow; employing those tactics at Bolton proved problematic, however. Results didn’t come but Evatt has finally found a settled formation and style of play suited to his players.
Their seven-game unbeaten run has seen Evatt instil a 4-2-3-1 formation which has worked to perfection. It allows Bolton to be solid defensively and also get the best out of their creative players. Antoni Sarcevic has reaped the rewards of sitting in a comfortable number ten role. He links up well with the likes of Eoin Doyle, Shaun Miller and Nathan Delfouneso.
However, perhaps the biggest improvements have been defensively. The Trotters have conceded just four goals in their remarkable run. Five clean sheets have followed emphasising their major defensive improvement.
Evatt has settled on a back four of Gethin Jones, Ricardo Santos, Alex Baptiste and Declan John. The four have played the last five Bolton games together which has yielded maximum points. They’ve only conceded two goals which came in their comeback at Mansfield. Ricardo Santos in particular is winning admirers for a string of fantastic performances in the heart of the Bolton defence.
Declan John has been an excellent addition to the defence. He arrived on loan from Swansea City in January and hasn’t looked back. John has slotted perfectly into the Bolton backline and has even chipped in with two goals.
Evatt has turned to his former friends and teammates in Alex Baptiste and Matt Gilks. The trio played together at Blackpool in the Premier League and Evatt has utilised the experienced duo to perfect effect. Gilks, who is arguably playing more football than expected, has been key in goal. Baptiste meanwhile has formed a good partnership with Ricardo Santos.
Eoin Doyle Has Also Arrived After a Slow Start
With Bolton now strong at the back, the strikers are finally scoring goals to win games as opposed to rescuing situations. Last season’s top scorer in League Two, Eoin Doyle, has taken his time to adapt.
Signing a three-year deal in the summer, Doyle arrived after notching an impressive 25 goals in 28 games which secured Swindon Town the League Town title. However, his Bolton career started slowly failing to score in five of Bolton’s first six league games.
Doyle seems to have settled now and currently has 12 for the season including three in Bolton’s excellent run. He appears to have recaptured his best form and has a good relationship with Antoni Sarcevic. The two regularly link up and it’s a combination working well.
Keeping Doyle amongst the goals will give Bolton an excellent chance of maintaining their good form and promotion bid. He would love to add consecutive promotions to his CV and finally, his team have arrived.
A Crucial March Will Test How Far Bolton Wanderers Have Come
Bolton will relish their upcoming games as they look to build on their fantastic February. They face six crucial league games in March starting with a local derby against Oldham Athletic.
Harry Kewell’s Latics are far better travellers than they are at Boundary Park. They play some good football and can score goals. Only Exeter City can better Oldham’s tally of 49 league goals. It will be a stern test for Bolton’s impressive defence.
They follow that up with a trip to in-form Bradford City. The Bantams have been transformed under joint managers Mark Trueman and Connor Sellars. Their terrific run of 30 points from 13 games in charge has propelled Bradford into the promotion reckoning. Bradford have won their last four and are just four points behind Bolton who occupy that final play-off spot. It’s a great test for both teams of how far they have come.
Bolton then take on current league leaders Cambridge United who have found their groove since the turn of the year. Mark Bonner’s team have lost just twice in 2021, winning seven of their 12 league matches. Another stern examination for Ian Evatt’s side.
The Trotters then head to Port Vale who are still finding their feet under new manager Darrell Clarke. Clarke has collected just two points from his three league games in charge. Bolton will want revenge in this fixture having shipped six in the reverse fixture back in November.
March concludes with a home tie against inconsistent Walsall and a trip to second-place Forest Green Rovers. A tough month of games but they offer a great chance for Bolton Wanderers to maintain their unbeaten run and continue their push towards the automatic promotion places.