Over the past few weeks the mood of Bolton fans has changed from acceptance of relegation, to hope, to irritation at the side’s inability to hold a lead. The root cause of the problem may be the lack of possession enjoyed by Pratley & Co. In losing a two goal lead against Reading at the Macron, Phil Parkinson’s men had the ball just 26% of the time, a figure that is Megsonesque.
In the latter days of Megson’s reign, the Whites lost to Liverpool at home, and had just 19% possession, a figure that means you’re more target practice than opposition, but by then the Ginger One had given up the idea of competing in midfield and had his players lined up on the eighteen yard line, hoping that the other side were rubbish at shooting.
Of course, possession stats give only part of the picture. They need to be combined with a territorial analysis to create a fully accurate impression.
In Sam Allardyce’s time, Bolton were adept at letting the other team have the ball in areas which didn’t matter. Once in the final third, the organisation of midfield and defence meant that there was nowhere to go, one of the reasons why his team were so difficult to beat.
On the international front Italy were once renowned for the ability to absorb pressure and hold a lead. In the 2006 World Cup semi-final they were on the back foot for almost the entire 90 minutes, but finished victorious thanks to two break away goals.
Former Bolton boss Dougie Freedman was a fan of the Azzurri and tried to implement the ideas at a lower level. He succeeded only in driving supporters onto Prozac and his insistence that his side had “controlled the game” when they’d clearly been given the run around was football comedy at its finest.
Crucially, the Italians had an out-ball, a way of relieving pressure, in the form of players with scintillating pace who could move the ball from one end of the pitch to the other with dazzling speed. Bolton’s equivalent is to hoof a long ball to Gary Madine and hope that he shows the same combative qualities displayed when in the pub beer garden, without the glass throwing, obviously.
No one expects the Wanderers to match the standards of World Cup winners, but it’s troubling that Phil Parkinson seems oblivious to the problem.
“I thought we were excellent in the first half and large periods of the second. So, it is hugely disappointing we weren’t able to see the game through,” he said.
Hugely disappointing, is one way of putting it. It’s your fault Phil, is another.
Parkinson’s first target in the transfer window ought to be a midfielder composed enough to hang onto the ball and then give it someone wearing a shirt of the same colour. So it’s over to Baron Greenback, who’ll supply the readies, unless he fancies owning a club in League One next season.
By Richard McCormick