As long as they can escape Phil Parkinson’s tactical straitjacket often enough, Bolton Wanderers will be League One promotion contenders.
But will Peterborough United’s game at the Macron Stadium on the final day of the regular season in April be important for both sides? Quite possibly on this evidence as Posh delivered one of those performances that make supporters dare to dream.
Posh didn’t play stunning football, but they played with great discipline and an impressive work ethic to make a team with five straight League One wins coming into the contest look rather ordinary. In fact ‘ordinary’ exaggerates the quality of Bolton’s first-half display, but put that down to Posh aggression and manager Grant McCann’s Klopp-like tactics of a high press accompanied by unlimited energy.
The ability to play decent passing football has been a huge part of the Posh DNA in recent years, but organised defence and physical power have remained elusive attributes. Not today they weren’t as, faced with a team full of basketball-sized players, Posh protected their goal so well ‘keeper Luke McGee’s save count contained just one hopeful 30-yarder.
Indeed Michael Bostwick in front of central defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Jack Baldwin is the sort of impenetrable wall Donald Trump would love to build. Full-backs Michael Smith and Andrew Hughes ensured out-flanking the muscle wasn’t going to work either.
Bolton huffed and puffed around the Posh penalty area for a lot of the second-half, but defensive blocks from Bostwick - with his hands to keep out Josh Vela’s shot apparently - and Tafazolli - to thwart Bolton dangerman Zach Clough from close range - provided the entire collection of visiting excitement.
Smith even ventured forward to score a stunning match-winning goal on 27 minutes, even if he rather spoilt the moment after the game by admitting the sun had been in his eyes when he smashed the ball goalwards.
A fine crossfield pass from Leo Da Silva Lopes found the right-back lurking near the Bolton penalty area and one decent touch was all the Northern Ireland international required before hammering a bouncing ball past former team-mate Ben Alnwick and into the roof of the net.
The Sky TV commentator rather ungraciously blamed Alnwick, who had been an early replacement for Bolton number one Mark Howard, who dislocated a thumb after catching Shaquile Coulthirst in the head attempting a quick throw out. It capped a poor afternoon for Alnwick who probably didn’t appreciate the belated farewell he received from the home fans housed in the London Road End.
Before Smith’s goal, Coulthirst had headed Marcus Maddison’s second minute cross wide and curled another half-chance the wrong side of a post on 20 minutes.
For two teams boasting such impressive recent form, the game wasn’t a thriller in the opening half despite some classy moments from home teenager Leo Da Silva Lopes, but while Posh were clearly the better side, Bolton were appalling as they relied on long throws, set-pieces and long balls aimed in the vague direction of a load of big blokes. Those who watched Bradford City under Parkinson probably weren’t that surprised.
The visitors were sharper after the break, enjoyed more possession, but lacked the quality to find an attacker with a decent cross. Tafazolli, Baldwin and Bostwick were immense when the pressure was at its height, losing barely a single challenge between them.
Posh still threatened on the break when more composure from substitute Paul Taylor and less composure from Chris Forrester might have led to a second goal. Forrester was clean through when receiving the ball from a tackle made by substitute Lee Angol, but decided to try and dibble the ball into the net rather than shoot and predictably failed.
Da Silva Lopes also failed, gloriously in his case as he shot narrowly over the crossbar from 45 yards after collecting a wayward kick from Alnwick.
They were rare failures though. McCann was so impressed he reckons the rest of League One will now start to take the Posh promotion push seriously.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester (sub Gwion Edwards, 85 mins), Leo D Silva Lopes, Marcus Maddison, Shaquile Coulthirst (sub Paul Taylor, 69 mins), Tom Nichols (sub Lee Angol, 69 mins). Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Ricardo Santos, Jerome Binnom-Williams, George Moncur.
Bolton: Mark Howard (sub Ben Alnwick, 11 mins), Lawrie Wilson, Mark Beevers, David Wheater, Andrew Taylor, Tom Thorpe (sub Chris Taylor, 66 mins)., Josh Vela, Liam Trotter, Zach Clough, Sammy Ameobi (sub James Henry, 85 mins), Gary Madine. Unused substitutes: Lewis Buxton, Dean Moxey, Jamie Proctor, Derik Osede.
Goals: Posh - Smith (27 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Coulthirst (unsportsmanlike conduct).
Referee: Jeremy Simpson 6
Attendance: 4,870 (480 Bolton).