ITEN Match Preview: Bolton (H)
Following quickly on from Saturday’s disappointing draw with Rochdale, Rovers return to action at the Keepmoat Stadium looking to get back on the winning track against Bolton Wanderers. Six months on from the controversial cancellation of the reverse fixture which is still yet to be played, these two sides with plenty of recent history in the boardroom finally get set to meet on the pitch.
The original cancellation, taken unilaterally by the Trotters without informing Rovers or the EFL, was a case of a club in deep trouble making a desperate decision without consideration for their peers. The merits of the financial crisis and dire squad situation of Bolton at the time has been debated into the ground since then and many feel that their punishment of a fine and suspended points deduction was lenient, including the EFL themselves who unsuccessfully appealed the independent ruling, but the fact is that this is all now history and all that matters is the match at hand tonight.
On that front, Darren Moore has some decisions to make after a below par performance from his team against Rochdale on Saturday. A goal inside 60 seconds should have been a catalyst for a big win but instead Rovers petered out and struggled to impose themselves, paying the price in the end and leaving with just the one point instead of three. The manager simply cannot afford to leave Ben Sheaf out of his midfield again, with the duo of Madger Gomes and Jacob Ramsey proving far too lightweight to cope with the battle.
A battle is what it will be on Lakeside tonight as Storm Ciara continues to wreak havoc. Calm, patient play is what will be needed and Sheaf provides this, whilst James Coppinger should also come in if fully fit to put his own composed stamp on proceedings. Darren may also turn to Fejiri Okenabirhie from the start in place of Devante Cole, anticipating a robust challenge for his attackers against a bullish Bolton outfit.
Bolton’s only two wins in the last fourteen games have been against the two sides they share the relegation zone with. The beleaguered Lancashire side are almost certainly going down with their 12 point deduction leaving them a massive 17 adrift of safety, but they have competed well in recent games and were unfortunate to lose in injury time at promotion-chasing Coventry on Saturday. They will no doubt be fired up for this one, as will the contingent of Trotters fans who make the journey east hoping to see an away win for the first time since mid-October.
Manager Keith Hill hopes to see defensive improvement from his side, but may have to do without imposing centre half Toto Nsiala after he went off injured on Saturday. That could mean a full debut for Ryan Delaney, one of a clutch of January signings Bolton made to boost their faint survival hopes. Young trio Kean Bryan, Ethan Hamilton and Brandon Fleming all came in on loan and straight into the team last month, but are backed by experience at the heart of midfield and up front.
Daryl Murphy has proved a great signing, netting 8 times in 18 league games at the age of 36. His similarly experienced strike partner Chris O’Grady has fared less well but has kept his place ahead of new boy Muhammad Faal for the time being, despite Faal’s incredible non-league scoring record at Enfield Town. Luke Murphy will look to pull the strings in midfield, ably complemented by winger Dennis Politic, a young Romanian player with a bit of flair who has caught the eye and scored at the weekend.
Midfield was the sticking point for Rovers against Rochdale and it will be again if the philosophy isn’t redrawn. The 4-1-4-1 exposed the individual shortcomings of several players and so a return to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 would make sense, especially against a side expected to sit back. Ben Sheaf’s return would free up Ben Whiteman to push further forward and go mano y mano with Jason Lowe, whilst Sheaf can track Luke Murphy allowing the third central midfielder – be that Coppinger, Gomes or Ramsey – to find space to exploit Bolton’s young back line.
The two sides last met as Championship sides in 2013-14, with Bolton doing the double over Paul Dickov’s side. Rovers were relegated in the final minute of that season as Bolton squandered a 2-0 lead at Birmingham, allowing the Blues to survive at our expense. Even so, a point in the April meeting at the Keepmoat would have seen Rovers safe in the end, but it was not to be as early goals from Neil Danns and Joe Mason undid the home side in a 2-1 victory for Dougie Freedman’s men.
Bolton were the first ever away side to win at the Keepmoat Stadium in an FA Cup tie in January 2007, Sam Allardyce overseeing a 4-0 win with Andranik Teymourian scoring twice, with Bolton a very solid Premier League outfit at the time. Prior to that, Rovers last beat Wanderers back in 1986-87, doing the double the last time Bolton saw themselves relegated into the bottom tier. Dave Cusack’s Rovers won 3-0 at Belle Vue in their second game in two days after Christmas, whilst Neil Redfearn scored the winner at Burnden Park in a 1-0 victory in May.
Tonight will be only the 12th meeting ever between two sides who have traditionally spent their time at opposite ends of the Football League spectrum.