HEADING into Friday night’s showdown I’ll admit to being concerned about the attacking prowess of Salford City.

They possess great movement, skill and experience at the sharp end of the pitch with the likes of Brandon Thomas-Asante, Ash Hunter and Ian Henderson.

The Ammies also had the numbers to back it up – prior to the game they were the fifth highest scorers in the league with 16 goals.

But we were treated to an impervious defensive display from Wanderers. They moved as a unit, tracked the runners superbly and didn’t give the talented Salford front line an inch of space.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Ian Evatt’s men put in their finest defensive performance with Matt Gilks making his first appearance of the season. As much as I enjoy delving deeper into the statistical analysis of the game, there’s one thing that stats can’t measure – intangibles such as organisation and communication. The defence looked much more assured with the experienced stopper behind them.

In their past 10 matches The Ammies were averaging 5.2 shots on target and 7.1 shots in the penalty area per game. The Whites restricted them to just four shots on target and only three shots inside the area.

Salford’s chances are plotted on the graphic below – they didn’t get anywhere near the six yard box, resorting to long range efforts, frustrated by the lack of space afforded to them.

The Bolton News:

The screenshot below shows exactly how the defensive eight suffocated the Salford attack.

When not in possession the back five got set early in a disciplined line and the three midfielders Tutte, Sarcevic and Crawford offered additional protection in a ‘V’ shape in which Tutte was the defensive midfielder acting as a ‘screen’ to teammates behind him, while Sarcevic and Crawford put immediate pressure on any Salford player who ventured into the centre of the pitch with the ball.

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As good as the defending was in front of our own goal, it didn’t solely occur there – it was happening all over the pitch.

Wanderers pressed extremely well and as a unit. Every single one of the 13 outfield players who featured ran their socks off for the cause. The willingness to put a shift in for teammates that Evatt has called for in previous interviews was on full display.

In my opinion, this was the best example of pressing Bolton have presented all season.

There is no perfect metric to measure the intensity of a team’s pressing, however I have tried to emphasise my point by charting the number of backward passes the opposition have played in their own half against the Whites so far this season to give a measure how much they were forced backwards.

As you can see, Salford played the highest number of backward passes (119) by quite some way, this is testament to the hard work that the likes of Doyle, Delfouneso and Crawford put in to pressing The Ammies’ back line.

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A prime example of the intense pressing carried out was the Sarcevic chance in the 72nd minute.

It would have been easy for Wanderers to sit back and soak up the pressure considering they were 2-0 up at that point.

However, they continued to pressure Salford defenders and were almost rewarded with a third goal.

The graphic below shows the positions of the players in Salford’s half when Nathan Delfouneso (ND) closes down Oscar Threlkeld, rushing him into a poor pass straight to the grateful Ali Crawford (AC).

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Crawford quickly plays the ball to Doyle (ED) who rounds the hapless Threlkeld and plays it to Sarcevic (AS) who has made a good run into the box.

The captain should really have done better with the effort but I think he can be forgiven considering the crucial goals he’s already scored this season.

It was pleasing to see six Bolton players in the opposition half showing a real willingness to get into the faces of Salford players and put them under pressure, restricting options and cutting out passing lanes.

In previous games this season, we have too often allowed teams time and space in their own half to build attacks.

It is also worth noting that Doyle’s opener also came from some good pressing from Ryan Delaney. With Salford having the ball in their own half, it would have been quite easy for him to drift back to a more natural defensive position, but he showed determination to press Salford player George Boyd and force the mistake.

Just four passes later Doyle has the ball in The Ammies’ box and calmly tucks it away.

The 11 that started the game on Friday is very close to Evatt’s strongest starting line-up.

If they can stay fit, with the next three league games coming against 22nd 23rd and 24th , there’s no reason why Wanderers shouldn’t be aiming to completely dominate these teams with the same intense pressing they displayed on Friday night.

Anything less than nine points will be a disappointment.

Written by Cameron Bromiley - For more from him on Wanderers, follow BWFC Analysis on Twitter here.