Bolton Wanderers play their final away game of the season this Saturday when they make the journey to Gloucestershire to take on Cheltenham Town.
Wanderers travel to take on Michael Duff’s Robins side for a 3pm kick-off as they aim to extend their unbeaten run as the season nears its climax.
The two teams were promoted out of League Two last season and both are poised for a midtable finish, with Wanderers potentially being in the top 10.
Wanderers have won their last two games and will be seeking to make it three in a row against the Robins this weekend.
Ahead of the game, Wanderers boss Ian Evatt spoke to the press and here’s what he had to say on the clash to broadcasters.
What’s the roll call in terms of availability?
“Kyle Dempsey has trained again today so he will be available for Saturday. Everyone else is all good and ready to go apart from the obvious really.”
You want to finish the season with a flourish?
“Many weeks ago we set the players a points target and, believe it or not, it’s still achievable just about. It’s not going to get us in the play-offs, I think it’s a freak year, this year.
“But 67 points with two to play is not to be sniffed at and I think if we get to the points total that we want to achieve, then I think nine out of the last 10 years I think that would have been enough to get in the play-offs so it shows you that we’ve had a decent season.
“Obviously we need to improve and we want to improve because we want to be the best, but we’ve built a solid foundation and structure this season and I think most people are relatively pleased with how we’ve done.”
Do you at this stage attempt to identify which areas that determines what needs to be done in the summer and in which order?
“Absolutely. My job is not just to coach and manage the team. It’s to think about the future and how we get there and myself and other people behind the scenes, Sharon (Brittan) and the board, Chris (Markham), Neil (Hart), we’re having constant conversations about Project Championship, so to speak, and where the team fundamentally needs to improve and what that recruitment looks like.
“But also off the pitch as well where we need to get to as a football club so when we do get to the Championship we can make sure we’re competitive and stay there and compete to try and get into the Premier League.
“All of these things are happening behind the scenes. We’re all highly ambitious. We all want success and we have no doubts that we’ll get there, but for now it’s about making sure things are in place as to when we do get there but it’s working smoothly.”
Cheltenham are next up – what do you expect?
“They’ve had a really good season, I think the three/four if Morecambe survive, teams that got promoted last season have done okay. I think what we’ve done is manage to jump ahead of the pack, remembering that we finished third last season, not first.
“I think we’ve managed to separate ourselves from the others, which is one of the things we wanted to achieve. We’re not where we want to be but we’re well on our way to getting there. Cheltenham, with what they’ve got available to them – budget and attendance – have to make the most of everything of what they are and that’s credit to Michael and his staff.
“I think they’ve had an excellent season. They’ve got some very good players that I see the same things really as to what I saw last season. Good and specific passing patterns, the way they try and hurt you with their system, very good from set plays.
“The long throws not there anymore so that’s a help! Michael will probably appreciate me not mentioning that! They’ve found other ways and they’re a good team and they know how to win.”
It’s been a productive week on the field over the Easter weekend and exactly what you were hoping for?
“Absolutely. We wanted six points. That’s come with decent performances. I don’t think we were excellent in either game but we’ve managed to find a way to win when we’re not at our best and find solutions and it’s part of how we’re evolving as a team to learn to win ugly, so to speak, and I think that we’re doing that.”
Hopefully you can find ways next season of sometimes not playing well and still getting maximum points?
“When I say to win ugly, I don’t think we’re ever going to be an ugly team. I just don’t think that’s the way we do things. I think we have flickers and moments in games where we’re exceptional and sometimes we haven’t had enough of those moments and we’ve had too much of the other side where we’ve been inconsistent.
“We’ve been a bit soft and flaky away from home, but I think that’s improved all season long and I think our attitude and personality, especially when teams score against us now has improved and got better and we finish games strongly. We have done for two years and long may that continue.
“When we score first I think our record is exceptional so how do we score first more often and how do we keep improving? They’re the conversations that are taking place everyday pretty much.”
2022 on the whole has been very kind to the club and it’s a bit of a shame the season didn’t begin in January because you definitely would be a top six team right now?
“Three defeats in a sample size of more or less half a season is exceptional form. I think it’s automatic promotion form and there’s no denying that, but unfortunately for us, the season starts in August and not January, even though it didn’t seem that way last season.
“It’s about building for the future and I think what we are doing is certainly doing that and it’s great that we’ve done well second half of the season. Every team can look back through a season and think where we’ve left points out there and lost points. I do think that we’ve suffered from injuries more than anybody else.
“I think the levels of injuries and the extent as to who they were to, has really caused us problems, especially November and December and even if we’d have had a below average instead of a really poor November and December, we’d probably be in there now. It shows we’re not far away but we want to finish strong and we’ve got it all over again to try and do next season.”
You seemed so pleased with the turnout against Accrington and that more and more it seems, people are coming to games and are really enjoying seeing what Bolton Wanderers have to offer now?
“Yeah I think so. I think they’re enjoying the way we’re playing. What I must say is off the football pitch, what we’ve done as a football club in terms of the culture and environment is extra special.
“I think that the videos and clips of Jon taking penalties against kids on the side of the stand and people giving their shirts away, people stopping in shops to speak to children, I think that shows what we’re about as a group. We’re very humble, we work tirelessly hard and we really appreciate all of our fans and all of our support.
“We know what it takes to pay for tickets, to come and watch us play and that means the world to us, their support, so we’re humbled by the connection that we’ve got with our fans. 19,000 on a game where there isn’t much to play for is exceptional and thankfully for us, we got the three points for them and hopefully those crowds can continue into next season.”
Away from home, the form has picked up in the second half of the campaign. Cheltenham are a very well drilled team but they don’t have the long throws of Ben Tozer anymore, but they’ve continued to excel very well at this level?
“Second half of the season I think we’ve learnt from some of our errors. Obviously the Burton games still leaves a bitter taste because that is the second half of the season, but I think we’ve learnt to cope with different conditions better.
“Our understanding of what it takes to win away from home is better and three defeats in 20-odd games is very good, but we’ve got one more away game to go and one more home game and we want to do our very best to win both of those games. It’s going to be a very tough game on Saturday, they’re very good at home.
“They play the pitch very well, it’s a tight pitch, a tight stadium. Obviously they’ve had a really good season, it’s the last home game, carnival atmosphere and we’re going to have to cope with all these things and make sure we go there, strictly business and try and get the three points. If we can perform to our levels then there’s no reason why we can’t.”