WANDERERS have a secret weapon up their sleeves in the event that Saturday’s play-off final against Oxford United goes to a penalty shoot-out.

Chris Markham, the club’s sporting director, worked at the FA as a Games Insights Lead between 2017 and 2020, during which time he developed a framework which was used by England at all levels to improve their penalty taking.

The headline result was that Gareth Southgate’s side won a shootout for the first time in 2018 against Colombia but the research has spread far and wide – and was even cited by Carlisle United boss Paul Simpson when his side beat Stockport County at Wembley last season in the League Two play-off final, scoring six out of six.

“Of course we’re diligent with everything we do and Chris (Markham) was England’s penalty guru, so to have him on side to offer valuable insight is great for us, and it has educated me, I have to say,” Ian Evatt told the Bolton News in the build-up.

“You can get small wins and advantages with penalties and there are things you can do to make your life easier. It has been really insightful – and having Chris and his team who have been there and done it with England, who could never win a penalty shootout, is a huge advantage.”

Nothing is infallible. And of the three shoot-outs under Evatt, Bolton have won one and lost two.

But a full week on the training ground has been put to good use, with the Bolton boss confident his players are in a confident place.

The gameplan has been set and Evatt says his team may have to make some snap decisions if Oxford decide to set-up in an unexpected manner.

“I can predict things and what I think the game will look like but it can change come Saturday and we have to be fluid. It’s my job to give the players solutions to the problems they might encounter,” he said.

“But at Wembley Stadium with all the noise there and the huge crowd it is virtually impossible to coach from the side. You get one opportunity at half time but by then it could be too late.

“The players have to know what the game looks like pretty quickly. And they (Oxford) have improved on that front, I have no doubt about that. They are more resilient, more compact, harder to break down and they have got some players who can really hurt you, so we know what their strengths are.

“But this is a one-off game and we back ourselves. There is no pragmatism from us. This is different to the semi-final, the away leg, where we could be slightly more pragmatic knowing we had the second game to come.

“I want to see the real Bolton Wanderers turn up on Saturday, and if we do it gives us a great chance.”