There was no win for Bolton last night, but the goalless draw at Oxford did show signs of genuine progress.
Wanderers still went into the game with no recognised striker, something which seems unlikely to change when Sunderland come to town this weekend. Will Buckley was back though, and it is was he who took up the challenge of playing through the middle, with Ali Crawford dropping into a more familiar midfield role. Jason Lowe also returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench at Rotherham.
And to be honest, particularly in the first half, not having a striker showed. We had plenty of chances in the first half, but were unable to take them. If Daryl Murphy was on the pitch, we would have surely been in front at the break. Buckley did hit the post after seemingly doing the hard bit and getting away in the first place, while Dennis Politic and Crawford both tested Simon Eastwood.
Nothing would be perfect though, and Oxford made things much tougher in the second half, ex-Bolton player James Henry hitting the woodwork after a shot took what seemed like a double deflection. Lowe would then nearly win it for us, a shot from the edge of the area was punched away by Eastwood as he certainly wasn’t holding onto it.
As mentioned by many though, it was far better performance from Bolton than at the weekend. There was a definite plan to play it out from the back, which was a bit scary at times but pleasing to watch when it came off, the back four looked much more familiar with each other than they had done just over 72 hours previously, while Thibaud Verlinden and Politic on the flanks were genuine threats. Liam Bridcutt was arguably our best player for the second game in succession, as well as winning the ball in midfield he was able to turn and make a pass too. We were just missing that focal point at the front.
A neutral would have enjoyed that game. There’s a long way to go, but there were signs last night Keith Hill at some point, might get this right.