Championship Gameweek 25: Can Bolton Keep Out Stoke?7 min read
Big-spending Stoke City are odds-on for a successful trip to Lancashire – but our tipster reckons hosts Bolton Wanderers might be able to keep them at bay. Here’s why.
How to press the Potters
Stoke City’s 2-0 loss at Birmingham on Boxing Day unearthed a potential weakness in this Potters side.
Neither Ashley Williams nor Ryan Shawcross, two old-school centre-backs at their best when heading balls away from the box, can distribute effectively.
Stoke’s opponents set up to close down full-backs Cuco Martina and Bruno Martins Indi reasonably quickly, but allowed Williams and Shawcross plenty of time on the ball; both lacked the required ball-playing qualities to make the most of this.
Gary Rowett addressed this issue by asking Ryan Woods, a deep-lying playmaker, to drop between the centre-backs to dictate.
Although that switch improved the quality of the build-up play from deep, it created another problem, which was that Woods was not able to show his technical ability further up the pitch.
For comparison, he bossed the midfield in the 1-0 victory over Millwall the Saturday before Christmas, taking 41 touches in the opposing half against low-block opposition.
Against Birmingham, Woods took only 26 touches in the opposing half, because he was balancing his usual responsibilities with doing a job that, ideally, the centre-backs would have been doing.
Additionally, wide forward Tom Ince’s willingness to cut inside from the right channel can be a strength for Stoke, yet equally, his reluctance to go on the outside can at times be a weakness.
Right-back Cuco Martina is more of a technician than a direct runner so, if Ince is not the one reaching the byline, it can be difficult for the Potters to cut their opponents open.
If Bolton boss Phil Parkinson watched Stoke’s previous match, he will know that pressing the full-backs but leaving centre-backs unchallenged is a way to force Woods deeper and perhaps by extension, nullify Stoke’s threat.
Parkinson possesses a squad with an average age of 29 and thus might find it difficult to sustain a high-pressing performance throughout 90 minutes, but they might have some joy in the opening period.
They were boosted by Wednesday’s scrappy 2-1 victory over Rotherham; although the table shows they are not as strong a side as Birmingham, they did play with a 4-4-2 last time out, which gives them the opportunity to work from a similar template out of possession.
The Trotters showed their defensive qualities by restricting the Millers to just two shots on target, with centre-back Mark Beevers among the stand-out performers.
Jason Lowe, a midfielder by trade, demonstrated his adaptability by playing well in both full-back positions while Gary O’Neil put in a strong shift in a wide midfield role.
However, the attacking aspects of their performances are undermined by a combination of a lack of quality and a lack of intent.
Since mid-September, strikers Josh Magennis, Clayton Donaldson and Christian Doidge have scored only one league goal between them.
Parkinson’s side average just 9.9 shots per game – the second-fewest in the division – which would indicate that there can at times be a lack of urgency in this side.
For that reason, we can look at opposing goals.
Quiet first half?
Gary Rowett’s men have netted just 11 first half goals this season, the joint-sixth fewest in the Championship.
Their hosts, meanwhile, have scored just seven first half goals this season – the second-fewest – and four of those seven came before mid-September.
For our best bet therefore, we’re backing the opening period to end goalless.
0-0 at half-time –
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