IAN Evatt has reflected on the shattered pieces of Bolton Wanderers’ season and admitted it was a “massive opportunity” missed.

Going into 2024, the Whites were second in the table, two points behind Portsmouth with a game in hand.

At various stages in the last five months they have gained an advantage over the chasing pack, including Derby County and Peterborough United, only to surrender it.

A third-placed finish did ensure that Evatt has improved the club’s league position in each of his four seasons to date – but the Bolton boss accepts that having thrown away a good position before the play-offs, the manner of defeat in the final against Oxford United has reinforced some serious questions on the team’s capability to get out of this division.

“The line is still going up but I want better than that,” he said. “We have let go a massive opportunity this season in terms of automatics. Yes, we had injuries but we also had opportunities in games, then to get to the final and go out with a whimper, it is scary.

“It is probably the first time that I can’t argue against the narrative of not turning up in a big game. I have been fighting the players’ corner for that and there are no excuses, every single one of us didn’t turn up. We have to take responsibility.

“This hurt will last for longer than a while. We all need to look in the mirror and think about what is next.”

Evatt’s tactics on the day at Wembley have been roundly criticised among the Wanderers fanbase, in particularly the decision to substitute top-scorer Dion Charles and player of the year Josh Sheehan midway through the second half.

“There was so much wrong we needed to change something,” the manager responded. “We looked slow, clueless with the ball, we didn’t know how to break down their block even though we had worked on it all week, so the only option was to go more direct, like we did second half against Barnsley and put them on the back foot. But we didn’t even do that with quality, which is very frustrating.”

Evatt lost a play-off final as a player with Blackpool but admitted Saturday’s defeat was a harder pill to swallow. He insists preparation for the match was thorough and that scenarios which led to Oxford’s two goals on the day had been explained in the build-up to his players.

“I have been in this game all my life, I can accept losing, and I have to give credit to the opposition on the day, I thought they were excellent,” he said. “But I can’t accept it when we are not recognisable as the team we are and what we have done this season. That is the sore point and where the hurt and pain comes from.

“If we had been creative, shown energy and intensity, and been done by two good goals or sucker punches, then you sometimes have to hold your hands up and accept it. But we didn’t, everything was wrong.

“We had worked diligently on everything, every phase, spoke about the wingers and keeping them outside and not allowing them back in the pitch, first goal happens that way.

“We spoke about transitions, counter-attack, their first thought it to put the ball behind. We worked on it all week and then the second goal comes that way.

“Then at the end we are chasing and leaving spaces, so they get more opportunities to score. But for me, a team that is so free-scoring, created so many chances this season, to have five shots and none on target is just baffling.”