Match Overview

The Shrimps travel to The University of Bolton Stadium with no wins in eight and averaging 0.5 points during this period since the 4-3 home win to Wycombe on the 22nd of January. Interestingly, we have consistently drawn then lost in sequence. If that pattern was to continue – following Saturday’s loss down on the south coast to Plymouth – we are due a draw this evening. 

I feel like a broken record when I say I feel the performances are better than the end results. At Plymouth, we had enough chances to gain a point – equal shots on target and shot attempts – but ended up losing the game by two goals to nil. It seems to be the story of our season (so far!) that we’ve lacked consistent quality in both boxes. Overall, I thought we defended our box relatively well at Home Park. Trevor Carson wasn’t any busier in the Morecambe goal than Michael Cooper in the Argyle net. They took their chances, while we didn’t take decent openings. Dylan Connoly, Jonathan Obika, Cole Stockton and Anthony O’Connor all had chances they could feasibly score, whilst two lapses in concentration in aerial battles defending our own box led to us being two goals down at halftime. 

Jon Obika came close second half. Pictures from https://twitter.com/jttphoto courtest of morecambefc.com

Onto Wanderers and they are not going to offer us any rest bite, having won five of their last eight games. Much like last season, in their automatic promotion-winning push, The Trotters brought in top quality additions in the January window in key areas to make them a much stronger proposition. 

For a rundown on the game, I have the pleasure of having the ever-impressive expertise of Cameron Bromiley from BWFC Analytics and highly respected journalist Mark Iles from The Bolton News.

What are they expecting from the game?

Cameron,

“I’ve seen a few Bolton fans predicting a four or five-nil win, but I’m more inclined to think the game will follow a similar pattern to our previous three meetings – two one-ones and a nervy one-nil Wanderers victory.

There’s certainly no love lost between these two sides with a red card being shown in each of those previous three meetings and while I hope we don’t see another controversial refereeing decision on Tuesday night, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the match being full of niggly fouls and gamesmanship from both sets of players, not to mention some choice words on the sideline from two vociferous managers.

I’d expect Wanderers to have the majority of possession as we have done in our previous three meetings with The Shrimps, as well as our most recent two home games against struggling teams, Lincoln and Wimbledon. Wanderers will look to play a high defensive line and get all 10 outfielders involved in attacking build-up play, while Morecambe sit in a low block and try to hit us on the counter.”

Marc,

“I think we’ll see two rather contrasting styles and nobody can deny there will be an added touch of spice to the occasion, given what happened at the start of February. It should warm up the atmosphere somewhat.

Bolton will look to keep plenty of the ball, in a similar way to their weekend game at Gillingham. I’d expect Morecambe to sit a bit deeper and frustrate, hitting on the break when they can, and you know a Derek Adams side is always going to be strong and organised at set-pieces.”

Shrimps’ Selections

Listening to both Derek Adams’ Plymouth post-match conference and his Bolton pre-match conference, the clear impression from our last outing was that it was a good performance that followed our strategic game plan. We created chances to win the game but just didn’t take them. For that reason, against another back 3 I predict we will keep a relatively similar 5-3-2 set-up and build on the positive aspects from that game. 

A big factor in Saturday’s slightly unusual team selection was a sickness bug that had run riot through The Shrimps’ squad. Three first-teamers, left-back Greg Leigh, central midfielder Toumani Diagouraga  (‘Toums’) and attacking midfielder Aaron Wildig were all missing due to illness. One of those apparently was withdrawn one hour before kick-off, so it was far from ideal pre-match preparation. 

Fortunately, it seems all of those players will be back to face Bolton. 

Derek was clearly disappointed with how we defended our box for the Argyle goals. For the first, Ryan Cooney was dominated in the air by Connor Grant at the back post from a cross and Rhys Bennett lost Ryan Hardie from an inswinging cross. The new gaffa will expect better from his players defensively to get a positive result this evening. 

The return of Toums, Leigh and Wildig provides us with lots of experience to the lineup and I expect we’ll look to be a little smarter in possession without being possession-based per se. On Saturday, we sometimes gave the ball away unnecessarily cheaply and the ball came straight back at us. With more experienced players they know in tense tight affairs – like we’ll face tonight – winning a free-kick, for example, can be a useful way to alleviate pressure. 

Pacey winger Dylan Connoly was a surprise selection to the last line-up and made an impressive first start for The Shrimps. He didn’t stop running for 90 minutes to the point he could barely walk when he was substituted in the end. His electric pace gave the opposition defence a different problem to worry about, whilst giving us an out ball if we wanted to go slightly more direct for a ball over the top. It very nearly paid off on a few occasions. 

Dylan Connolly signs on Deadline Day! - News - Morecambe
Dylan Connolly signing for Morecambe in January – morecambefc.com

Wanderers’ Selections

Cameron,

Since the January transfer window, Evatt has been spoilt for choice in terms of midfield and attacking options compared to our injury-ravaged squad of in the final few months of 2021.

We’ve now got a relatively healthy squad as only Kieran Lee, Josh Sheehan and former Shrimps man Andrew Tutte definitely missing through injury (although the game probably comes too soon for Lloyd Isgrove and Elias Kachunga who have recently returned to light training after lengthy layoffs due to a torn hamstring and torn thigh respectively).

It’s also worth mentioning that defensive midfielder MJ Williams is only one booking away from a two-match suspension, so I think he’ll be absent from the starting eleven, especially in a game in which we expect to be on the front foot for the majority.

The major dilemma for Evatt will be whether to name the same team that beat Gillingham convincingly on Saturday or rest some players in preparation for our crucial game against fellow playoff chasers Plymouth this weekend. I think the back three of George Johnston, Ricardo Santos and Will Aimson will remain the same as well as the two wingbacks of Declan John and Marlon Fossey. The question marks will be in central midfield, where I think Kyle Dempsey returns after conveniently missing the game against his former employers Gillingham with an illness and calf injury.

The front ‘1-2’ of the 3-4-1-2 can be any three from Dion Charles, Jon Bodvarsson, Dapo Afolayan, Amadou Bakayoko and Kieran Sadlier. I’d take a guess at Bodvarsson being rested and replaced by Bakayoko but it really wouldn’t surprise me to see any combination of those five names in the three most advanced positions for Wanderers on Tuesday.”

Marc,

“He has plenty of options. Kieran Sadlier has been excellent off the bench of late and is pressing hard for a place in the side, likewise, Amadou Bakayoko, whose strike rate is very good considering he missed a chunk of the season through injury.

Kyle Dempsey could be available too, which means he could swap out either MJ Williams or Aaron Morley from the midfield and go for something a little bit more attack-minded.”

Wanderers’ Strengths

Cameron,

“This is a team very much built for getting the ball down and playing through the thirds via disciplined passing and movement. Luckily we have the perfect arena to do just that with the University of Bolton Stadium pitch in immaculate condition.

Evatt’s switch to a back three system with wing-backs pushing on at the start of January has yielded nine wins from twelve games. Utilising pacey and technically proficient wingbacks Declan John and Marlon Fossey has seriously increased Wanderers’ attacking threat and these two, along with the attacking midfielder and two centre forwards, form a deadly attacking five that can cause chaos for opposition defenders in the final third.

Bolton are one of the most dangerous sides in the league from open play, currently sitting third for open play shots taken, third for open play expected goals (xG) and second for open play goals”

Marc,

“Wanderers have a 100 percent success rate after scoring the first goal. They get the lead, they win the game. Part of that comes from the way they play, controlling possession, tiring teams out, constantly moving the ball around the pitch – which is a big old piece of grass at the UniBol. 

They have shown much more tactical flexibility of late after the arrival of several January signings and while I expect them to start with a 3-4-1-2, they can easily shift to 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, or even 4-2-3-1.”

According to Wyscout, The Trotters are second in League One for key passes with 157 for the season. This compares to a league average of 105.58 and 81 from The Shrimps. This is a good metric to see which teams can make the killer pass to create a high-quality chance. A “key” pass is a pass that immediately creates a clear goal-scoring opportunity for a teammate.

Wanderers’ Weaknesses 

Cameron,

“You don’t have to be a tactical analyst to see where this Wanderers side struggle. We’ve consistently failed to match up with direct, physical sides such as Rotherham, Wycombe and Burton, with big target men such as Sam Vokes and Vadaine Oliver causing problems for our centre backs, so Morecambe could have some success if they go direct to Cole Stockton and get runners around him.

With our penchant for playing out from the back, Wanderers can also sometimes get themselves into sticky situations when pressed high up the pitch. A recent example of this was the second goal we conceded against MK Dons recently with 19-year-old GK James Trafford on loan from Man City gifting Kain Kesler-Hayden the ball when trying to play a short pass to LWB Declan John after some good pressing from Scott Twine.”

Marc,

Up to the weekend, you would have said that Bolton have a weakness against direct football and set pieces – but they were excellent at Gillingham.

They have conceded a fair number of goals from teams who like to pepper the penalty box with crosses, long throws etc, there is no doubt about that.”

Both contributors give me an element of optimism if we were to be a little direct. That being said, playing the ball in the air to Cole would be less efficient than playing the ball to the head of Vokes or Oliver so we’d have to play direct but also mix the height of our deliveries for us to be effective. 

Last season, Cole Stockton was the perfect hold up player to bring other teammates into play to run in behind or get in positions to receive the ball and then put in a cross. I predict Cole will play a lot with his back to goal this evening with the likes of Dylan Connolly, Adam Phillips and Arron Wildig making runs off him to be available as an option.”

Opportunities Against Wanderers

Cameron,

“If Morecambe have the required fitness levels, pressing Wanderers backline from minute one could lead to chances and unnerve a side used to having their own way in possession at home. To have any chance of success

The Shrimps would be wise to also do all they can to break up and slow downplay, keeping the ball out of play as much as possible and working as many set pieces as possible. If Morecambe allow us to play out and aren’t compact and organised in defence, it could be a very long night for the men in red.”

Marc,

I think if Morecambe try to take Bolton on in a football match, they will lose. The best chance is to put them off their stride, use the physicality they have in the side, and keep things organised and tight at the back.

If Connolly was to start again, he definitely has the raw pace to cause issues with The Wanderer’s defence. He had one shot on target on Saturday, whilst having two shot assists. 

A “shot assist” is the last action of a player prior to a teammate having a shot. He was constantly busy, came very close to scoring one-on-one and was it not for better deliveries may have got in through on goal more times. 

Cole Stockton has gone five games without scoring but came close on a couple of occasions despite not being 100% due to the sickness bug that hit the squad. He does have the ability to create his own chances with 2 from 3 successful dribbles and he had two shots that he put wide which he created by himself. 

It’ll be intriguing to see if he carries out a high press alone this evening or is backed up by his teammates. In the second half on Saturday – two goals down – we came out from the dressing room and pressed Plymouth higher up the pitch, compared to the first half. It seems there are potential opportunities to unsettle Bolton who like to play out from the back, but we’ll need to ensure we don’t leave ourselves outnumbered if they beat the press. 

Threats from Wanderers

Cameron,

“As mentioned above Ian Evatt’s side will look to dominate the ball and tire out the Morecambe players. If Wanderers are allowed to get into their groove, they have the technical ability to really hurt this Shrimps side by moving the ball into dangerous areas through one-touch passing and sudden bursts of movement.

Prior to the January transfer window, there was an obvious lack of speed in Wanderers front line, but with the addition of ex-Accrington man Dion Charles, we now look a real threat in transition from defence to attack. Our second goal in the 6-0 drubbing of Sunderland was a great example of this, with Afolayan and Charles moving the ball from our own box to the Black Cats’ box in seconds. Besides the threat from open play, it’s also worth noting the excellent set-piece delivery of Aaron Morley  – the central midfielder picking up three assists from set-pieces in recent weeks.”

Marc, 

“Wanderers move the ball really well, especially through the wing-backs Marlon Fossey and Declan John. When they play well, the team tends to get results.”

Since Bolton strengthened in January it’s clear they have a number of additional threats they can put on the pitch. The acquisition of Charles as a replacement for Eoin Doyle has been a very shrewd bit of business. On the few occasions I saw Bolton earlier this season, they played great football yet often were let down by the lack of clinical finishing.

Burton at home on Sky back in September of last year was a perfect example of this. Wanderers had 24 attempts on goal with only three on target and failed to hit the back of the net. In Charles, they have a proven striker at this level and since signing in January has six goals and three assists to his name in 12 starts and 993 minutes. His shot map from Wyscout suggests his goals typically come from directly in front of the goal or slightly left. 

Dapo Afolyan shot map

On his day, Dapo Afolayan is unplayable at this level. He has an amazing ability to run from deep and cause opposition midfielders and defenders trying to pick him up a migraine. 

According to The Analyst, he has the most chances created by carries by a significant margin with 82 compared to Scott Twine with 49 in second position. 

He has an average of 9.19 dribbles this season with a 51.5% success rate according to Wyscout. On top of that, he’s able to get his shots off and test a keeper with 3.24 shots per game with one usually hitting the target. He has scored 11 goals from 30 starts this season, so he is a player you have to keep well guarded. 

These are just a couple of key threats, but not an exhaustive list. With fifty two goals scored from open play The Trotters have players all over the pitch who can cause a little bit of magic or provide a clinical finish. 

LET THE GAME COMMENCE! 

I purposely haven’t mentioned any of the off field events of the first game as I’d prefer to focus on the potentially intriguing match-up that lies ahead. The three points has huge importance for both sides. Derek Adam’s men haven’t won in eight – albeit he has only been in charge for two of them – so it’s essential Morecambe pick up a win to keep pace with the teams above. Fortunately, all five of the other bottom six sides lost on Saturday.

We can’t bank on this continuing so it’s critical we pick up a win soon if we have serious aspirations of staying in League One. I’ve always said though, we just have to keep battling as in football it is not over until it’s over.

Bolton on the other side are coming into form at the right time, but some say there may be a little too much to make up to qualify for the playoffs. I’m not sure I agree. The signings they’ve brought in have significantly improved the team and they proved last year that an Ian Evatt side can churn out results on a consistent basis, while others will inevitably drop points. As Marc points out in his Twitter post, on current form it looks possible they could do enough: 

What’s certain is that it is bound to be a tense affair which i’m excited to see under the night lights of The University of Bolton Stadium. 

I’d like to say a thank you to Marc and Cameron for their excellent contributions. I have been following their work for a while and both have fantastic Bolton and EFL knowledge.

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW.

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