WANDERERS have negotiated the choppy waters of eight games in 28 days to keep themselves in the play-off picture – now can they remain there in calmer seas?

Down to the final 10 games, the next pair of which pit Bolton against third-placed Ipswich and league leaders Sheffield Wednesday, it may be tempting to look ahead to the post-Papa Johns Final stretch for where the play-off chase will truly succeed or fail.

Typically, Ian Evatt has not yet ruled out catching the top two, and while he admitted to working harder than normal with his players on their out-of-possession work this week, he still has full faith that his players can pick up points from two of the toughest fixtures around.


The Bolton boss allowed his players a couple of days off last week to recharge the batteries but did not take up the opportunity himself, working instead on planning ahead for Wembley, recruitment and the run-in.


"Like everything in football, you are always on to the next challenge," he said. "We gave the players Sunday and Monday to get some rest and have a bit of a reset but after that it was back down to work for them, as normal.

"Unfortunately for me - and others at the club - Wembley needs planning, so as much as we're trying to focus on the here and now, we also have to manage the arrangements for the final. 

"Myself and Chris Markham are already looking at the transfer window and how we improve - and there are lots of ifs, buts and maybes about that too. I don't need to start on that but there could be some significant differences in what the recruitment looks like.

"It is non-stop but I enjoy my work. These kind of games are what you do it for, and if you'd asked us all at the start of the season if we'd like to be where we are right now, then I think we would have grabbed it with both hands.

"There is a lot of hard work ahead but sometimes it is worth having a bit of perspective off the back of two not-so-good results, then go again. I think we're ready for the challenge."

Ipswich arrive in their best form of the season. Tuesday’s comfortable 3-0 win against Accrington marked the first time that Kieran McKenna’s side have strung four consecutive victories together and their only league defeat since Boxing Day came at the hands of Oxford United who, curiously, were also the last side to beat Bolton on their own patch back in October.

Draws had become the Tractor Boys’ enemy for much of the New Year but no team has outscored their 68 goals in League One, and nobody – including Wanderers – has had more of the ball, with Ipswich averaging a staggering 60 per cent possession.

Bolton spent much of the second half of last weekend’s draw at Morecambe camped out in the Shrimps’ penalty area, effectively crowded out in their efforts to find a winning goal.

To those who have watched the Whites in action in the less glamorous arenas this past few years, it felt like a familiar story. And lacking many of their physical options up front, like Vic Adeboyejo, Cameron Jerome or Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, there was little option to change to a more direct approach.

The two sides on show at the UniBol are, statistically speaking at least, very similar.

Ipswich have had more possession inside the penalty area than anyone else in the division – and by some distance. According to Wyscout, Bolton average 19.27 touches of the ball inside the box per 90 minutes, which ranks them second. McKenna’s side dwarf their total by nearly 18 per cent.

The Suffolk men are used to getting their own way on the ball, and in midfield triumvirate Sam Morsy, Massimo Luongo and Conor Chaplin they have three of the best in the business at this level.

Chaplin has scored 15 times in the league, generally playing behind 11-goal striker Freddie Ladapo, and is second only to Sheffield Wednesday’s Barry Bannan for ‘smart passes’ – i.e. those which break the opposition line and lead directly to an attacking chance.

Ipswich have invested heavily in building a squad that dropped to the third tier in 2018/19, the first time they have played at this level since the 1950s.

The purchase of Leif Davis from Leeds United for a reported £1.2million is a case in point. The 23-year-old full-back has proved invaluable on the left side and has contributed 10 assists, a total matched only by Bristol Rovers’ Aaron Collins in the division.

“He cost more than our entire squad,” smiled Evatt. “But I am not a manager who will sit here and say ‘they spend this and that’ because if football was that simple, the team that won every division every season would be the one that spent the most money. And it would be boring.

“Spending money brings its own pressure and I am sure Kieran will share that but at the moment they are doing well and delivering.

“But for all they have recruited with what their finances can offer, I think we have recruited well too for what our finances can offer. I think we are in a very good place.”