Chester 1-1 Bolton Wanderers – Marc Iles’s Big Match Verdict

Rattle in several goals in the first few games against non-league opposition and the achievement would probably have been dismissed.

Instead, we have seen three friendlies which were characterised by missed chances and clunky build-up, which has fed directly into the growing concern that Ian Evatt’s side still lack the firepower to bill themselves as an automatic promotion challenger.

Sure, last season’s top scorer Dion Charles was rested at Chester, but none of the four strikers named in Saturday’s squad at the Deva Stadium showed any interest in taking the spotlight, and that must be at least a slight concern at this stage in proceedings.

The National League North side gave a good account of themselves in a competitive game, proving tough to break down, scoring a wonderful equaliser on the stroke of half time and even threatening to nick a victory with an effort that bounced off the post deep into the second half.

But Wanderers had ample opportunity to make things easier for themselves, missing several presentable opportunities, which has become an unwanted reoccurring theme. The afternoon’s outstanding player, George Thomason, was the only man to break the hosts’ stubborn defences, and that with the help of a deflection at close range.

If you could look past the wastefulness in front of goal there was some evidence of what Evatt has tweaked this summer – that his side is working the ball better in wide areas, getting more players into the final third. Ultimately, though, you can only hope they are saving the real gold for when the League One campaign arrives because it is difficult to argue that this side has progressed past the team that walked off the pitch at Oakwell as beaten play-off semi-finalists a couple of months ago.

Evatt’s summer preparations have not been at all straightforward. The Bolton boss has pulled the plug on two transfer deals at an advanced stage, seen George Johnston ruled out for the season and his captain, Ricardo Santos, miss two of the three friendlies because of family illness.

Charles’s international endeavours with Northern Ireland have called for a careful touch, and several B Teamers have been drafted in to plug gaps, leaving the whole situation feeling half-finished. And with that in mind, it is perhaps harsh to judge this too comprehensively.

Three friendlies remain against league opposition, Salford City, Everton and West Brom, which will raise the stakes a little and, hopefully, bring something out of Wanderers’ attacking players that we have not seen against the lesser lights.

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Dan Nlundulu started the game at Chester but neither really got a clear sight of goal in what was a scrappy first half.

Wanderers should have been out of sight, spending long periods in possession. At one stage they got six corners in succession but could not muster a proper shot on goal.

Aaron Morley went closest, ratting the woodwork with a shot from the edge of the penalty box, and home keeper Wyll Stanway made a smart save to deny Kyle Dempsey from close range.

Thomason brought a cheer of relief from the 500-or-so travelling supporters when he crashed home Dacres-Cogley’s pull-back from the right. The 22-year-old has returned in good form and did as much as anyone to try and get his side working at a higher tempo.

For a moment it looked like the goal would spark Bolton off. Dacres-Cogley missed by a whisker after cutting in from the right and Randell Williams put a free header wide.

Such is the open way Wanderers play, chances will not always fall to those best suited to put them away. But while Bodvarsson did his best to get himself in the mix, Nlundulu struggled to get involved and seemed to drop deeper as the half wore on.

Chester got themselves level with their first attack of the game. Gethin Jones couldn’t clear his lines properly and after a free-kick was played back quickly to the edge of the box, ex-Stoke City defender Joel Taylor had space to loop a shot into the top corner from 25 yards past Joel Coleman.

It was a smart finish and a rare thing of beauty on a grey and miserable afternoon but Wanderers will look at their own sloppy defending and know it must be better.

As with all friendlies, the procession of changes at half time rarely makes for a better viewing experience. That was certainly the case here on the England-Wales border.

Difficulties continued for the front men. Victor Adeboyejo wasted a good chance to Bolton ahead early on, racing on to Morley’s through ball and steering a shot wide, while strike partner Cameron Jerome failed to get a good connection on two late headed chances.

Matt Tweedley also had a late effort scrambled away after he had managed to nudge the ball past keeper Stanway.

The home side went closest, however, with substitute Charlie Caton hammering a shot against the post 20 minutes from the end.

Liam Edwards – one of the famed Junior Whites who represented the club so proudly at the start of the 2019/20 season – was at the heart of the Chester defence, and part of a decent performance from Calum McIntyre’s side which bodes well for the season ahead. But then how much you can really deduce from pre-season games like this is debatable.

There has been little evidence so far to suggest that the profligacy in front of goal that hampered Wanderers last term has been magically solved in the summer break.

Performances in the last three matches have been patchy and have done little to calm the air of nervousness which has spread in recent weeks as the club’s transfer business slowed to a standstill.

Three weeks remain until the big kick-off against Lincoln City, and several until the summer transfer window closes by which time Wanderers must have sufficiently strengthened to match their own lofty target.

Evatt hopes to conclude one deal next week and feels that the standard of player he is targeting will mean they will not suffer for having not been part of the group for the last month.

The next three friendlies should be more than just fitness exercises, and with cobwebs now blown out of the system we should hopefully see more, especially in front of goal.

Starting the work is two thirds of it, goes an old Welsh proverb. One can only hope that after a month slogging away on the training ground that the ‘final third’ is worth the wait.


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