Bolton Wanderers vs MK Dons

The start of a new season is always a day of renewed hope, friendships, and expectations. Today, it was greater than ever after the enforced isolation of the past 17 months. We are back and so are the Wanderers. Everybody was asking each other how we had coped and remembering friends who sadly had not made it through the pandemic. There was the magnificent Supporters Wall of Fame at Bolton Central to find your name if you bought a season ticket last season. The fans were certainly up for the occasion, judging by the singing outside beforehand and the queues to get in. There is genuine excitement around the stadium after last season’s virtual promotion and the well-planned recruitment during the close season, something we have not been able to enjoy for a long while. Hopefully the Wanderers would be up for it against the Dons from Milton Keynes, a club who themselves bounced back from League 2 at their first attempt three seasons ago.
Ian Evatt named his first squad in League 1, which naturally prompted the first debate amongst the fans, as we all have expert views. What a match followed, a six-goal thriller with the lead changing hands three times and a last-minute equaliser. Welcome to League 1, where our first priority must be to establish ourselves at this level, where the pace will be faster, mistakes will be punished more and the quality of players better than League 2. Overall, the Wanderers handled the match well with lots of positives like the creativity, three different goal scorers and the character to come back. Of course, there were things that could have been better, but these are for Ian Evatt to think about and work on. A draw was a fair result.
The important thing is to settle down in this league. We have got a point on the board, which will ease the pressure associated with a ‘nil points’ start. Let’s get some more points on the board, see where we are at Christmas and take it from there. The only other time we got promoted from the League’s basement, it took us 5 years to make the next promotion. The first home match that season attracted only 4,800 compared to over 16,000 today. We are making great progress off the field. We have got our club back. We are One Club, One Town, One Community.

8 May 2021

Crawley Town vs Bolton Wanderers

It has been another long week of mixed emotions. We spent the early part of the week, moping around feeling frustrated and sorry for ourselves after missing the opportunity to seal promotion last weekend. Then we got our minds into gear as we realised that we were still in pole position and that promotion was still in our hands, if we could do the business at Crawley Town. A storm of social media messages were raging across the internet from celebrities, former players and fans around the world, united in a single cause, Bolton Wanderers to be promoted. Hopes were sky high that this would be the day when we announced that the Wanderers are back. We were together as one.
So, we headed into isolation, or beer gardens for the lucky few to watch matters unfold on Sky TV, who did their best to discourage us, pointing out repeatedly Crawley’s magnificent home record against the other nine leading clubs in League 2: 7 wins and 2 draws. The maths were simple, equal Morecambe’s result, which was likely to be a win at home to struggling Bradford City.

Doombar at the ready, we settled down to watch our future unfold. Ian Evatt made one expected change, bringing in George Thomason for the injured Kieron Lee. We were magnificent from the kick-off. We started on the front foot and kept it there throughout. Captain Antoni Sarcevic led the way with a brilliant goal inside 10 minutes. Dapo Afolayan finally got on the scoresheet with a simple tap in and by the time their captain, George Francomb was deservedly sent off, Bolton were cruising. Second half goals from Eoin Doyle and Lloyd Isgrove put the icing on the cake of probably our best performance of the season and certainly the most welcome and satisfying.
The relief was palpable after what the club has been through in recent years. We had survived the dark ages and reached the light at the end of the tunnel. I do not mind admitting that there was a tear or two in my eyes, as the realisation set in that we had done it. Credit has to go to Ian Evatt, his management team and the whole squad. Credit also needs to go to our new owners, led by our Sharon and to all the others within the club, who stuck by us. Let the celebrations begin.

2 May 2021

Bolton Wanderers vs Exeter City

Following last week’s magnificent win against Morecambe, today’s match against the Grecians could not come quick enough. How we have got through this week, I do not know but at last the appointed hour arrived. The target, a win and automatic promotion would be ours. All the necessary precautions had been taken with no alterations to pre-match rituals and preparation, lucky clothes donned and the Doombar put on ice in preparation for the celebrations. The only thing standing in our way were Exeter City, who had Play-off ambitions of their own.
Ian Evatt went for experience, bringing back Declan John and Antoni Sarcevic for Ben Jackson and George Thomason, respectively. In a good open first half, things went well for us as Gethin Jones fired home a well worked opening goal. At half time, we were almost daring to believe that it would be our day. But Exeter City went for it in the second half, and we could not respond. They got an early equaliser and we struggled to get going as too many players were below par. To rub salt in our wounds, Exeter got the injury time winner to narrow our options next week. Arguably, midway through the first half, they should have been down to 10 men as Alex Hartridge fouled Lloyd Isgrove as he appeared to be the last man to deny a goal scoring opportunity but, on the day, Exeter deserved it, and good luck to them.
I am not sure if disappointment adequately covers our feelings right now. We are feeling down but not out. We have lost a battle but not lost the war. We have got a week to lick our wounds, regroup and get it right at Crawley Town next Saturday. Automatic promotion is still on and is still within our hands. We cannot change today’s result as that is in the history books now. We can affect our future. Forget today’s match as the only match that matters is the next one. Pressure affects different players in different ways and Ian Evatt has got to find a way for our team to overcome the undoubted pressures of clinching promotion and get the result we all want and need at the People’s Pension stadium in West Sussex. The maths are simple. Barring an unexpected slip up from Morecambe, we have to win. Come on you Whites. We can do it.

24 April 2021

Morecambe vs Bolton Wanderers

Tuesday night’s second half re-enactment of the Alamo against Carlisle United got us back on track after the hiccup at Grimsby Town last weekend. This meant more sleepless nights and stomach butterflies ahead of this six-point showdown with the Shrimps in the battle for automatic promotion. Bolton has been buzzing all week as flags and scarves appeared on houses all round the town and through the positive side of social media, fans arranged to give the team a good send off from the Unibol and a fantastic welcome at the Mazuma stadium, a.k.a. the Globe Arena.  The nerves were jingling ahead of this Cup Final for sure, as we settled down to watch on iFollow in beer gardens, homes or whatever sanctuary we could find.
Ian Evatt brought in Ben Jackson to replace the injured Declan John but the battered and bruised Matt Gilks made it between the sticks and the news that Captain Antoni Sarcevic had made the bench gave us a massive boost, similar to Darren Pratley’s inspirational return against Fleetwood in March 2017.

The match started at a cracking pace with Morecambe going for it like men possessed and Bolton trying to calm things down and play controlled football. Our hopes got a massive boost when Kelvin Mellor was deservedly red carded for kicking out at Dapo Afolayan under the referee’s nose, halfway through the first half. After that the Wanderers were in total control and got the vital goal from young Ben Jackson, who could have had a hat trick. Captain Sarcevic came on midway through the second half to steer us home. In the very last minute, there was a heart stopping scramble in the Bolton box, which had us diving for cover behind our screens but thankfully Matt Gilks and Alex ‘Maldini’ Baptiste came to the rescue once again. The referee blew his whistle and we had got the result we needed.
We are nearly there. We have retained our four-point lead over Morecambe and Tranmere with two matches to go. We have confirmed our place in the Play-offs at the very least and we need to win one of our remaining matches to secure automatic promotion. I suspect that there will not be much sleep again this week but come on all Bolton fans everywhere, get those flags and scarves out this week to show the Wanderers that we are right behind them.

17 April 2021

Grimsby Town vs Bolton Wanderers

What a dramatic week we have had in the build up to our trip to play the Mariners in the lunchtime kick-off, brought forward in respect of Prince Philip’s funeral. Normally, we could have looked forward to some decent fish and chips in the fishing capital of England but as usual our virtual tour of League 2 continued on iFollow. It is sad that Marcus Maddison’s loan period has had to be cut short due to personal problems and we can only wish him well and hope that he gets the help he needs to sort things out. Then there was the fantastic win at Salford, when the whole team stood up and were counted, defending as a team to put us in a strong position for securing promotion. I heard of some Bolton fans who couldn’t bear to watch it as the match wore on, either pacing the room or covering their eyes in front of their screens. But we came through together and hopes were high that we could take another step forward against the bottom team, Grimsby Town.
Ian Evatt named an unchanged team and bench against a team who had been fighting amongst themselves last week. Any thoughts of an easy match disappeared inside a minute as Grimsby tore into our defence and Jay Matete put them ahead. Today they fought for each other and outfought us as too many of our players were below par. Having said that, we still had good chances to get back in this game. It is no good pointing at individuals. Our strength has been winning as a team and we lost as a team today. We have got to forget today and focus on Carlisle United on Tuesday.
We have been saying for weeks that we had so many cup ties to play and everybody knows that there will be shocks in cup ties. We are in the nervous nineties stage of the season, where all clubs and their fans will be looking at results from their rivals and who they have to play. We have four more cup ties with 360 minutes of football to determine our season. We have all got to keep together to see the Wanderers through. As Journey sang “Don’t stop believing”. We can do this and Ian Evatt and the players have got to know that we are behind them all the way.

10 April 2021

Bolton Wanderers vs Harrogate Town

The excitement of our push for promotion is reaching fever pitch as we start the final heptathlon of the season. Our emotions are up and down like a yo-yo in direct response to every point gained or lost, every goal scored or conceded. We are making every save with Matt Gilks, we are making every tackle with the defence, we are making every defence splitting pass with the midfield and we are scoring every chance with our lads up front. If only we could be there to show the Wanderers that we are totally behind them, but they have to do it on their own with us left to shout and scream at TV monitors in our isolated state.
We needed to pick ourselves up after the Newport hiccup, as we faced the Suphurites from the Spa town of Harrogate. On Grand National day, would we be at the races or would we turn into also-rans? In his search for goals, Ian Evatt brought in Marcus Maddison and Lloyd Isgrove to unlock the expected defensive bulwarks in blue. In a shocking first half, Harrogate were on fire. We did not turn up and we were fortunate that Harrogate were not out of sight by half time. The half time team talk and a change in tactics got us back into this game. We took our chances when they came along and got the valuable three points, with Matt Gilks making a brilliant save from veteran Jon Stead. Harrogate were left thinking, as we were at Newport, you do not always get what you deserve in football.

The important thing is we found some character and determination to turn this match around. I do not care what my neighbours think, I was shouting and cheering as Lloyd Isgrove and Eoin Doyle tucked those goals away and my fingernails got another trimming until the final whistle was blown.
Six more matches to go, six more challenges to overcome. We are back in the automatic promotion spots and we need to stay there. It is on to the Peninsula Stadium in Salford on Tuesday night, where in normal circumstances, we would have been packing it to the rafters. But we will all be there in spirit against a team that has not lost at home this season. I think that it is time that they did. Come on you Whites! Upwards and onwards.

5 April 2021

Newport County vs Bolton Wanderers

The latest stop on our virtual League 2 tour meant we were heading to South Wales to face the Exiles from Newport County. They have been arguably the best team to come to the Unibol this season and they were leaders for most of the first half of the season. Their form has dipped since the turn of the year, but a tough game was still in prospect. More than ever for we fans, it was a case of “Wish we were there” rather than the normal holiday postcard “Wish you were here”.
Hoping to put Good Friday’s disappointing draw behind us, Ian Evatt brought back George Thomason and Lloyd Isgrove to replace Dapo Afolayan and Arthur Gnahoua. It was nearly a sensational start as both teams tore into one another and Eoin Doyle crashed one against the bar and Matt Gilks pulled off a couple of good saves. As the half progressed, Bolton got well on top, playing some superb football at times, creating chances galore. We should have been out of sight by half time, but we could not get the all-important goal. This came back to bite us in the second half as Newport picked up and ex-Bury favourite, Nicky Maynard fired home after another good save from Matt Gilks. Sometimes you do not always get what you deserve in football. Certainly, we have played worse and won matches this season. But if you do not score in a match, then you are not going to win, no matter how well you play.
The fantastic unbeaten run is over and all talk of unbeaten runs should be banished to the past, as should this result. We have now got a mini-league of seven matches, seven separate challenges to overcome. All thoughts should now focus on beating Harrogate Town on Saturday. There are going to be twists and turns with every set of results as the matches are played. That is what football is all about. League 2 is arguably the most competitive league in England with up to a dozen clubs realistically still involved in the battle for automatic promotion or play-off places. The best thing is that we are right up there in the mix, something which was beyond our wildest dreams as late as January. We need to keep the performances going, get the vital goals and then together we can and will do this.

2 April 2021

Bolton Wanderers vs Colchester United

Easter weekend, the time when football starts to sort itself out, especially up to the early 1970s when there were usually 3 matches in 4 days. We are having to settle for only two matches these days at a time when we really want to peak at the last page to see how this season turns out. We know that the players need time to recover in between matches but the 9-match rollercoaster over the next 5 weeks is not going to be easy on our emotions. But we are all in it together as we faced the ‘U’s from Colchester United on the back of the best unbeaten run in the country and certainly our best for ages.

As Ian Evatt made one change, bringing in Arthur Gnahoua for George Thomason, what could go wrong against a struggling side who sacked their manager this week? Plenty as it turned out as we came up against a side who defended like their survival depended upon it. We struggled to raise ourselves to recent heights of performance. Eoin Doyle did have a goal wiped out for a debatable offside decision but overall, we were very flat, probably our worst performance for weeks. Defensively, we were sound but all credit to Colchester, they were defensively sound too.
Many will look at this result and claim that two points have been dropped but at this stage of the season, I think that it was a valuable point earned as we face the manic run in to the end of the season. Results elsewhere went for us as we moved into the top three for the first time this season, with nobody having games in hand to overtake us. That is where we want to be on Saturday 8th May around 17:00.
The last and only time that we got promoted from the 4th tier, we won 5, drew 3 and lost 1 of our last 9 matches. I only make the comparison to illustrate that we are not going to win every match, that promotion has to be earned match by match, battle by battle. This match is over and done with. We need to learn any lessons, pick ourselves up, move on to Newport on Easter Monday and keep those points rolling in. I think that I have enough fingernails left to see us through, but it is going to be close.

27 March 2021

Forest Green Rovers vs Bolton Wanderers

We are renown for not overdoing the excitement at Bolton but I have got to admit that it is getting to me as we start the final decathlon on the season. I have had butterflies in my stomach all week in anticipation of this next instalment of this remarkable season. Maybe the lockdown is adding to the tension as in normal circumstances we would have been there en-masse in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire to see if the lads could cut it at the New Lawn, against Forest Green Rovers, the greenest football club in the world. Instead, there has been an almighty scramble to watch this match with Sky covering it and thus preventing iFollow from doing the same.
Ian Evatt brought George Thomasson back in from the start, replacing Lloyd Isgrove. The match turned out to be quite a tight affair with the Wanderers putting in a good solid performance and the match being decided by a superb finish from Eoin Doyle from Nathan Delfouneso’s cross, a goal worthy of winning any match. With Bolton’s defence once again standing firm and Rovers’ poor ball in the last third, it looked like Matt Gilks had been put on furlough once again. Mind you his “coaching” from the back kept him occupied and the rest of the team on their toes.
There is a great togetherness amongst the team, the club and the fans, epitomised by Captain Antoni Sarcevic being there, supporting the team whilst out injured. Ian Evatt is building up the mental strength of the team, as well as the fitness and skills factors. It is so important to take one game at a time. All thoughts should now be focussing on Colchester United on Good Friday. If we drop any points on our run-in, then learn any lessons and move on to the next match.

As fans, we sadly cannot be there to cheer our beloved Wanderers on, but we can do our best to help the noble cause. This is not the time to change any lucky pre-match rituals.  My flat hat will be staying firmly put for match days and I certainly will not be changing the Doombar until the final whistle at Crawley in May. It is beginning to look good but we have won nowt yet but with nine more cup finals to go, we can proudly sing “We are staying up, we are staying up!”

20 March 2021

Bolton Wanderers vs Walsall

Impatient for the next instalment after a whole week’s enforced break from the Wanderers, we logged on to iFollow for the expected demolition of the Saddlers. Such is the confidence growing amongst the fans, that we expect to beat everybody. Even the bookies are making us odds-on favourites these days. But as we all know, football is a funny game and not every game goes to form.
Ian Evatt brought Lloyd Isgrove in to replace the injured Antoni Sarcevic. Walsall came with their plan to shackle us and hit us on the break with their pacey forwards and they executed this very well in the first half, where we failed to get out of first gear, and they managed to take the lead with a cracking shot from Sam Perry. Either the half-time cuppa or Ian Evatt’s team talk worked as we were a different team in the second half, as we clawed our way back into this game with Kieran Lee nodding the equaliser and Eoin Doyle smashing the winner from the penalty spot. All’s well that ends well and we proved that we have the character to dig points out when we were perhaps not at our best.
It is points not performances that matter as we enter the final decathlon of the season. We have got to take one game at a time, forget Walsall now and concentrate on Forest Green next week. Ian Evatt’s philosophy of doing the hard work on the training ground is putting us in the best position to win matches. We can see the improvements each week as this squad develops. People are starting to talk about Bolton Wanderers now for the right reasons, our football. I have been overwhelmed with supportive and respectful comments from other clubs’ fans. Many Bolton fans who had lost hope in the Dark Ages, are telling me that they are loving watching the Wanderers again and are proud that we are playing proper football. It is an emotional time for us fans as it seems like we have stopped the slide into oblivion, turned the corner and we are at the dawn of a new era.
As we enter the final straight, there are ten more battles to be won. As fans, all we can do is get behind the team by flooding social media with positive support. We can do this together. Onwards and upwards.