I must start this preview with an important weather update. Conditions are set fair on Saturday for Plymouth Argyle’s clash with Bolton Wanderers, with highs of 21° and lows of 13°. I know this will come as a disappointment to those hoping for another Ryan Broom-style bog goal against Saturday’s visitors, and can only apologise for being the bearer of such news.
But don’t fret. Whilst this weekend’s encounter may resemble a much more normal game of football, it won’t necessarily be a bore. In fact, there is an abundance of intrigue as Ian Evatt brings his side to Home Park once more.
Bolton have mixed up their formations this season. For both of their away fixtures thus far, against Ipswich and Port Vale, they’ve deployed a 4-3-3, and they may be inclined to do so again at Home Park. However, given they’ve used it in their last three games, it’s more likely they’ll line up with a 3-4-1-2.
It can be considered a slightly more defensive version of the shape Argyle themselves used last year, with Declan John and Conor Bradley operating as actively attacking wing backs. Gethin Jones, famed for being one of seven defenders used by John Sheridan in the play-off game against Wycombe all those years ago, often lines up as the right-sided centre back. Think of him as a League One Kyle Walker when he plays in a back three for England. Given he’s played every minute in the league this season, he’s likely to take to the field on Saturday, though another ex-Argyle defender, Will Aimson, filled in for him on Wednesday night against Aston Villa in the cup.
Evatt’s side achieved a handy 9th placed finish last year. They accumulated a reasonably respectable 73 points but, as any Argyle fan will tell you, it wasn’t easy to breach the play-off threshold last year. Still, the Trotters have maintained much of the squad who took them to 9th last season, with a few signings made in the hope of taking them to the next level. Jack Iredale from Cambridge is probably the most high-profile of the permanent deals, and he’s made three starts in the league thus far.
But the main highlights have come from their use of the loan market. The aforementioned Bradley, borrowed from Liverpool, has brought a new dimension to Evatt’s attack. From right wing back he has a goal and an assist, and also won a penalty against Ipswich on opening day. You could argue he’s a had a strikingly similar impact at Bolton as Bail Mumba has at Argyle.
Amongst his other stats, his tally of 7 key passes is bettered only by midfielder Aaron Morley in the Bolton side, and nobody in the league has been involved in more ground duels (55). Argyle will also have to be prepared for Bradley to run at them – his total of 20 attempted dribbles is the 3rd highest in the division. However, his success rate is slightly less impressive, so perhaps this is another game to have Joe Edwards start on the left to get those tackles in.
If Bolton do indeed opt for their 3-4-1-2, the two sides’ shapes will be broadly similar. Much of Argyle’s success (or otherwise) could be decided in midfield. If things go well, Argyle’s 3-4-2-1 should be able to outnumber Bolton in the middle, but they’ll need to be careful of the most attacking of Evatt’s midfield players, Oladapo Afolayan. He’ll look to find space between Argyle’s two more. defensive central midfielders, and he too is a dangerous and active dribbler. And with Afolayan the second-most fouled player in the division, Argyle’s defence will need to be well drilled to deal with a number of inevitable set pieces.
We know Bolton like to play out from the back, demonstrated by the fact that defender George Johnston has completed more passes this season (213) than
anybody else in the side. And that could just play into Argyle’s hands. At home at least, Steven Schumacher’s side seem to trust themselves to play attacking football as well as anyone. Against Peterborough last time around, some of Argyle’s patterns of play were terrific, and playing in a similar manner this weekend could make
things very difficult for their visitors.
Still, don’t expect this to be a walkover. Bolton won’t be as absent-minded as last time, when they continued to play the ball short on a pitch resembling a
swimming pool. And whilst the two shapes will be at least slightly different, should Bolton opt for three at the back there is a chance the two sides will simply
cancel each other out. Don’t be surprised if this one is decided by the odd goal