THE MONDAY MATCH VERDICT: Yeovil Town 2 Bolton Wanderers 2
THE line is in sight for Wanderers and they are limping down the finishing straight.
Summer can’t really come soon enough for Dougie Freedman, who has got to use the break wisely to reshape and reinvent an underperforming squad.
The width of a post was all that stood between his side and a wake-up call of epic proportions at Huish Park – but, just maybe, the Whites got enough of a scare to sort themselves out for the remaining nine games.
Had they gone 3-1 down to Ishmael Miller’s penalty with 10 minutes to go, there would have been no way back.
With due respect to Yeovil, whose pluck might just see them upset the odds and survive in the Championship, a defeat here would have been every bit as definitive as the 7-1 hammering at Reading.
All the familiar problems had unfolded, abject defending, a midfield lacking creativity and movement, and some wasteful finishing. But more worryingly, for 20 minutes before the break it seemed the magnitude of what defeat would represent had not actually sunk in with the players themselves.
As Kevin Dawson drove home the second Yeovil goal on 42 minutes, the reaction of the Bolton players was nothing more than stunned silence.
In that moment, half time could not come soon enough for Freedman, and to his credit, he used his time wisely.
On the back of a real rollocking, Wanderers re-emerged looking leaner and meaner to grab a point.
Victory for Wanderers would have been a little harsh on the hosts, who really had given everything over the course of 90 minutes. Had Freedman’s team matched them at any stage in the effort stakes, they would have had three points sealed long before Miller’s penalty and Alex Baptiste’s subsequent red card. Three years ago, Wanderers were seventh in the Premier League, 53 places above Yeovil, sitting 17th in League One.
That they meet on such level terms now tells both the story of the Glovers’ incredible rise and Wanderers’ depressing fall from grace.
That fall has been difficult to watch and you have to hand it to the Wanderers fans, 1,500 in number on Saturday, who continue to show such devotion.
They deserve better than they have been given this last few years and that is exactly why Freedman needs to get his summer reshuffle spot on this time.
Knight, the man whose flicked header earned a point at Yeovil, may well be one of those heading off into the sunset at the end of his current contract.
He has let no-one down this season, despite finding himself the target of fans’ ire at times, but Freedman might feel that the time is right to start again at the back.
A handful of others will also be allowed to drift away for nothing – but unless they are replaced by hungrier versions, this kind of aimless, directionless season will only be repeated again.
It promises to be a defining stage of Freedman’s managerial career, for after this summer he can fairly be judged without also referencing the problems inherited from previous managers.
The Scot isn’t known for being a shouter or baller, even though this reporter can verify he is not above tearing the odd strip off someone when he feels he has been wronged.
But the signs are that he told a few necessary home truths in that half-time break in the cramped changing rooms at Huish Park and got the desired response.
Tactically, his changes in the second half transformed the game, and while it has become popular to question the manager’s chopping and changing of the team, it is important to acknowledge that factor.
One can only imagine what was said to Baptiste, who had been having a nightmare against Kevin Dawson even before felling him for the 80th-minute penalty and receiving a straight red card.
Freedman didn’t mince his words after the final whistle – saying his full-back could “go and sulk” after landing a ban that will definitely see him miss tomorrow night’s game against his former club Blackpool.
Similar words may well have been aimed at Mark Davies, who drifted through the game and exchanged midfield positions without once making an impact.
A player of his class should be taking this kind of match by the scruff of the neck. Instead, he flattered to deceive with a few scampering runs and did little to really worry Yeovil at all.
Wanderers did have chances – Lukas Jutkiewicz missed an early header and Baptiste scuffed a shot inside the penalty box after getting a clear sight on goal.
But spurred by the excellent Tom Lawrence and Dawson on either wing, Yeovil deserved to lead the game at half time. Miller was able to open the scoring when he drifted away from marker Tim Ream to side-foot Dawson’s cross past Adam Bogdan.
And it was Dawson himself who doubled the advantage, capitalising on even more loose defending on the edge of the box to drill into the bottom corner.
The pace of the game rarely ebbed below 100 miles per hour and that suited the home side a lot more than it did Wanderers.
After the break, however, they were able to add a measure of control.
Jermaine Beckford came on for his first appearance since mid-January and instantly forced the Glovers defence to take a few backward steps.
Jutkiewicz produced a inch-perfect shot from the edge of the box to halve the deficit and Wanderers piled pressure on from there.
The on-loan striker should have helped himself to a second when he found keeper Marek Stech off his line but failed to beat him with a lob.
Ninety seconds after Miller had struck the outside of the post with his penalty, Knight flicked Medo’s chipped free-kick over the stranded Czech to level the scores.
It should have been a platform to go on and win but when Freedman brought David Wheater on for striker Jutkiewicz, it presented a chance for Yeovil to pour forward.
Bogdan made a brilliant save from Byron Webster’s header to preserve a point before Neil Danns wasted a chance to play Beckford in for what would have been a winning goal in injury time.
It was breathless stuff and none of the travelling fans will have complained with what they had seen.
But in the cold light of day it looked like another missed opportunity to add to the long list this season.
Freedman said the team that played the second half is more like the one he wants to fashion. The one that finished the first has definitely run its course.