Eastern Road Debrief: Bolton Wanderers (H) – Preview

By Ryan Stillwell

Pompey return to PO4 following a rare week’s absence with neither the distraction of a cup game, nor an international window in the way. It’s been an important week at the training ground in Hilsea, as the Blues will have been working to begin the process of turning around a dire run in form that has seen just one victory in their previous thirteen games.

Coming to Fratton Park in a far more content mood following the start to their season, are a Bolton Wanderers side following their promotion from League Two.

The Opposition

The visitors for this clash are most likely looking for a slightly less dramatic campaign following a wild 20/21 season. As late as February of that season, Ian Evatt’s side were 20th in the League Two; the pre-season heavy-odds men were closer to a fourth tier exit at the wrong end. 

Seemingly adrift from their ambitions, the Wanderers kickstarted an extraordinary promotion run when with ten minutes left on the clock away at Mansfield Town; they scored thrice to complete a turnaround from 2-0 down.

This late smash-and-grab for the ages proved the catalyst for a succession of games that saw twelve win from their next thirteen games, including eight clean sheets in a row. This firestorm of victories propelled Evatt’s side from 20th, to 3rd, and promotion.

For the most part, Evatt has kept the side that charged their way into the third tier. Most of what was known as the first team through the course of the first team remained in BL6 as they seek to re-establish themselves higher up the footballing echelons. That didn’t prevent Bolton from reinforcing their squad.

Notable arrivals into the clubs feature Declan John and George Johnston in defence, Josh Sheehan in the middle of the pitch, with the top end now spearheaded by Elias Kachunga, Oladapo Afolayan, and Amadou Bakayoko. Afolayan has hit the ground running at some pace, already on seven goals with two further assists in fifteen games.

Their foray back into League One has gone relatively well so far for a promoted team. They currently sit 13th after 15 games, having collected 19 points, and a goal difference of -3. That position factors in a winless run of four games, including three defeats and ten goals conceded, on the suffering end of batterings courtesy of Plymouth and Wigan.

Prior to that, the BL6 outfit were floating around the playoff positions. With two-thirds of the season still to play, and the experience of the last campaign, the Trotters may be worth keeping an eye on just in case they go on another streaky run, to either end of the table.

In terms of availability for the Saturday contest, Gethin Jones will be out for a while following a fractured fibula. Alongside him in the treatment room is Amadou Bakayoko, and Eoin Doyle remains a doubt. 

Portsmouth

A return to PO4 provides another opportunity to add to their win column, which sits at a rather miserable four through fourteen games. Overall, it leaves Pompey 16th in the table on 16 points, also with a -3 goal difference. Three of those wins have come at Fratton, most recently the 4-0 sinking of Sunderland, while they haven’t won since opening day on the road. In a bid to try and find positives, if another win is to be found soon, it is likely to be on Portsea Island. 

Of the many issues currently plaguing this side, the work ethic had recently become chief among them. Their back-to-back towel-throwing showings against Rotherham and Ipswich to the tune of eight goals conceded sent Danny Cowley’s side straight into freefall.

The draw at the Wham Stadium last week reduced that ever-expanding rot to *just* two goals conceded; but at least a point was salvaged in what was a spirited showing. Instead of collapsing in the wake of both Accrington goals, Cowley’s men got back into the fight, finding time to secure an equaliser late on.

The Bolton game will give this group a chance to prove that their collective will in that game was not limited to a cameo showing. Never mind the defensive issues at the moment, combined with the occasional attacking blank, the questions of this team are rightly centred on their mindset within games. Systemic changes have been applied multiple times this season; but the Blues will find themselves on the wrong end of far too many scorelines if their biggest opponent is to be themselves.

No suspensions are in effect for this game, while the injury room remains heavily populated. Ellis Harrison, Paul Downing, Clark Robertson, Liam Vincent, and Jayden Reid all remain sidelined as this thin squad looks to resurrect their season.

The Match

The clash in BB5 saw Pompey control much of the game, despite failing to secure three points. It is likely on that basis that the back four will be retained for the visit of Bolton. There may also be an unchanged starting eleven, with players like Reeco Hackett putting in his best showing to date up north, causing problems for Sean McConville all afternoon until his substitution. 

The visitors are likely to be a match structurally, having employed 4-2-3-1 since opening day. Barring any tactical surprises, this shouldn’t lead to any numerical mismatches on the field, but the eagerness of the respective full-backs may provide the largest amount of space on the field. Mahlon Romeo’s adventuring spirit may have to be tempted with a swiveled head on shoulders, as the attacking threat from the Trotters should not be left unattended.

It could be a back-and-forth game of net rustling galore, Pompey have conceded ten goals in their past three games, while Bolton have conceded nine in the same timeframe. With defensive frailties waiting to be exploited at either end, it will be a bad look for either side should they fail to register a goal in this one. 

Full match coverage of Pompey vs Bolton Wanderers is live from 2pm on 93.7 Express FM, while pre and post-match shows can be found the Express web player.

To keep up to date with Eastern Road Debrief content, follow @PompeyViking62 on Twitter.

Photo: Portsmouth FC

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