Bolton's Resurgence Owes Much to Hill's Expansive Mindset

  • November 20, 2019 | By Chris Mann
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Every upward climb starts with a first step. And then a second. And so on.

Picking up eight points in six games might not seem that mind-blowing to most teams, but for an outfit as deep in the doldrums as Bolton it really is a magnificent turnaround. And the reason, as well as having a squad of senior players to call upon of course, has to be Keith Hill.

The happy-go-lucky manager has got the Trotters playing again, and while most Bolton fans were curious as to what he was going to bring to the club, the early going has been very positive indeed. Defeat in the FA Cup first round to Plymouth hurts - that could have brought some much-needed funds into the coffers if subsequent draw(s) had gone our way, but the league form really is impressive. Draws with Sunderland and Blackpool, both top-half sides in League One of course, while a narrow defeat to Portsmouth is respectable enough given how well Pompey have been playing of late.

And what can be said about back-to-back wins over Bristol Rovers (who were unbeaten at home this season prior to Bolton's visit) and high-flying Fleetwood Town, who were subjected to just their fifth defeat of the season by the Burnden Aces. The victory over Joey Barton's side was particularly impressive, especially since that as of November 15 they are as short as 9/4 to oblige in the latest League One promotion betting odds from Betway.

The takeaway point from all of those games was uniform and unanimous: Bolton are a far more dangerous proposition in the final third of the pitch under their new manager's guidance.

King of the Hill

When you look at how Keith Hill conducted affairs at Rochdale, another northern side operating on very meagre financial means, it was always likely that he would implement an enterprising playing style.

Rochdale conceded 54 goals in the league last season, which was more than all but four of the bottom-half sides in the division, and while they were fragile defensively it just goes to show how open Hill is willing to set his teams up. That has been in evidence at Bolton too as he gets to grips with the personnel at his disposal.

For the trip to the Memorial Stadium, and remember that Bristol Rovers were unbeaten at home at this point, the manager sent his players out in a 4-2-3-1 system, with full-backs Josh Emmanuel and Adam Chicksen allowed to bomb on and create overlaps outside of Chris O'Grady and Joe Dodoo, who are both ostensibly strikers.

With Ali Crawford pulling the strings in behind Daryl Murphy, and Luke Murphy and Jason Lowe allowed to press on from midfield when it was safe to do so, there were yellow shirts flooding into Rovers' final third of the pitch. The 2-0 win, in which they comfortably also won the Expected Goals count, was no less than deserved. Bolton, like Rochdale, are thriving under Hill.

Keith Hill Gives You Wings

The manager shuffled his pack for the visit of Fleetwood, with Thibaud Verlinden and Dodoo paying as old-fashioned wingers to provide the ammunition for O'Grady and Murphy. It worked a charm, with both frontmen getting on the scoresheet. Already, he has shown a fondness for getting the ball into wide areas in an attempt to get plenty of balls into the box, and now Bolton's occupation in the middle section of the pitch is at a League One low - just 21%, in fact.

Of course, the Trotters are still playing catch-up from a statistical perspective, and the fact that they have spent the least amount of time in their opposition's third of the pitch - just 23% per 90 minutes, on average, according to WhoScored - needs to be addressed in rapid fashion. But that will surely come. Now Hill has some excellent professionals to work with, Bolton will start to enjoy more possession of the ball, particularly in wide areas, and spend less time overworked in defending their own portion of the pitch.

As a happy side-effect, that will improve matters at both ends of the ground. The goals for column is still lacking, but that is another legacy of the unfortunate start to the campaign as much as anything. And the key stat here is that 71% of Bolton's goals are coming from open play, which means they don't have to rely on set pieces or 'good luck' goals, e.g. penalties and own goals, to get the job done.

The signs under Keith Hill are very positive indeed; he has certainly made the case for the attack, not the defence.

Football betting site Betway

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
19 Rochdale 34 36
20 AFC Wimbledon 35 35
21 Tranmere Rovers 34 32
22 Southend United 35 19
23 Bolton Wanderers 34 14
View Full Standings >>


Who is Bolton's 2018/19 Player of the Year?
34.62% Gary O'Neil
19.38% David Wheater
18.92% Pawel Olkowski
9.27% Joe Williams
5.33% Jason Lowe
4.13% Sammy Ameobi
2.85% Josh Magennis
2.75% Mark Beevers
1.19% Jack Hobbs
1.01% Ben Alnwick
0.28% Andrew Taylor
0.28% Craig Noone