It was heartbreak for City late on in their penultimate fixture of 2023, with Bolton Wanderers taking all three points away from Sincil Bank.
Lukas Jensen started in goal behind a back three of Alex Mitchell, Paudie O’Connor and TJ Eyoma, with Adam Jackson absent from the matchday squad. Sean Roughan started at left wing-back as Jack Burroughs was also unavailable, while Lasse Sorensen kept his place on the right. Ethan Erhahon started in midfield alongside Ted Bishop, with Ethan Hamilton in a more advanced role on the right-wing. Danny Mandroiu and Jovon Makama retained their places from the Derby defeat.
I think it’s important we put some things into perspective after the reaction to the game on Tuesday, since Michael Skubala became head coach, we have played 8 league games and 4 of them have come against teams in the top seven. On top of that, while almost every manager in League One was working in training during an international break, City had four games in two weeks. We have played the most games in the division, without even mentioning a wasted trip to Accrington and 80 minutes of the first game we played down at Leyton Orient. The thing we need to realise is that Michael will want to change the way we do things and the way we play, but as he’s always said that isn’t going to happen straight away and he’s had hardly any real training time to implement his style.
That being said, Michael has tried to change some things. He’s given Jovon an extended run in the team, something which I wouldn’t have seen Mark Kennedy doing no matter how many injuries we got. He has experimented with multiple different combinations in the front three, including using Hamilton on the right in recent games. A question I have for the people that are calling for a more attacking system is, what players does Michael have available to allow him to do that?
The first two thirds of the pitch are top eight quality, but our forward line isn’t anywhere near good enough, and the blame doesn’t fall on anyone here. If you add Tyler Walker, Ben House and Reeco Hackett to our squad, then sure you’ve got yourself a selection of forwards that are more than good enough, but we haven’t got that. Jovon isn’t ready to play League One football yet, Jack Vale hasn’t had the impact we hoped he would have when he signed. Mide Shodipo hasn’t really been used, Dylan Duffy is still young and drifts in and out of games and Haks has shown glimpses of quality at times but never on a consistent basis. We’ve tried using the likes of Ali Smith and Hamilton out-wide, but it’s been largely ineffective. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. Getting a draw from Tuesday’s game was the only real option. There was no way we could match Bolton’s quality on the day in an attacking sense, so we played to our strengths and attempted to sit in, and hit them on the counter attack.
Our game plan looked to be working. In the first half, Bolton looked like the better side, but they didn’t have many chances to go into the lead, and we tried to hit them with the press a few times too. Out of possession we looked really good. The obvious problem was the lack of attacking threat, that I’ve already touched upon. Even in the second-half, we nullified Bolton’s threat and started to get up the pitch ourselves at times.
I know we want to be an ambitious football club, but approaching that game in any other way with all the issues we have would’ve been disastrous and I wouldn’t mind predicting we would’ve come away quite embarrassed. I remember being impressed with Bolton when we played them back in August, and I wasn’t impressed by the football they played, it was more about how street-smart they were. They are robust, they commit tactical fouls when needed and they know how to play up to the officials. Just look at the challenge Jovon got booked for in the first half, their lad makes the most of it and it’s the same for the red card, which I’ll come to soon. Bolton have everything that a good side needs, they are very good with the ball and without the ball they do what is needed to turn a game in their favour.
Despite how good Bolton are, I thought we were going to get a point out of the game for 70 minutes until we ended up a man down. Mandroiu’s reckless challenge made a tough challenge for the Imps turn into an almost impossible one. Watching it live, I questioned the referee’s decision, but after seeing the replay, it’s certainly the right decision. The Bolton player has done his bit, but Mandroiu was late and had both feet off the floor. It’s unfair to claim that he cost us the game, but he did us no favours at all.
I’m not defending Mandroiu at all, but I don’t feel that he directly cost us the game. We invited the pressure towards the end by sitting very deep and we could’ve very easily done that with 11 players on the pitch, but we’ll never know if that could’ve been the case. I don’t know where the Irishman goes from here, it will be interesting to see if he gets back in after he’s served his suspension or if we even see him in a City shirt again.
Things are tough at the moment, and I expect that to continue on Friday night, but in just over a months time, we should’ve fixed our problems. We’ve got Jack Moylan to look forward to, and potentially Freddie Draper alongside any new additions we make in the window. We are looking at a big month in the Michael Skubala era off the pitch, and hopefully we come out of the other side of it strong. We can’t afford to dwell on results at the moment with how many games we have to play. Hopefully we can get ourselves a much needed three points on Friday night against Northampton to round of 2023 positively.