The reassuring thing was that Steve Evans could see what others around him in Bolton saw; the good, the bad and the ugly in the wet of a Lancashire autumn. “Frustrated, annoyed,” Evans said after two more points dripped away.
Leeds United’s head coach does not expect relegation to hang over his new club this season but nor is he stuck in the mindset of thinking his players are in perfect fettle. There were pluses at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, just as there were at Fulham last Wednesday, but obvious deficiencies too. Evans decided honesty was preferable to deflection.
Leeds dominated, he said, and so they did for much of a second half in which Bolton – the team at the foot of the Championship – finished with 10 men. There were chances too and two in particular which United should have buried before Mirco Antenucci equalised with a penalty on 71 minutes. Twice they hit a post as the game swung back and forward.
Then came the criticism: a “silly” concession and the sight of Leeds trailing to the opening goal for the eighth time in 13 games. A mistake by Marco Silvestri moments earlier which added credence to the view that the goalkeeper has committed too many this season. And the waste of the final 20 minutes when Bolton dealt with a red card shown to Prince, their French defender.
“We dominated enough to win,” Evans said, “but the quality of balls into the box, especially in the last 20 minutes, weren’t clinical enough. When that happens, people put bodies on the line and you’re relying on luck.
“We missed chances at key stages and, like Fulham, we gave a silly goal away. We should defend it much better and we go away disappointed.”
Evans’ two matches as head coach have followed a similar theme, offering Leeds ample opportunity to post a rare win but yielding no more than a point despite late onslaughts. Fulham saw out injury-time by the skin of keeper Joe Lewis’ fingers but Bolton did so with fewer questions asked of Ben Amos. United were constantly in range of him but devoid of a killer pass.
Silvestri, as is his way, gave Evans more to think about. The Italian’s one-handed save in the second half, sparking the counter-attack from which Antenucci won United’s penalty, showcased the strength in his game but his flap at a Liam Feeney cross – the precursor to Bolton’s first-half goal – exposed a weakness.
Silvestri’s mistakes since August have not been isolated and Uwe Rosler, Evans’ predecessor, was forced to defend him repeatedly. Even if Evans felt the need for a change, he has no experienced alternative to turn to. Ross Turnbull broke an ankle earlier this month and Rosler did not find time to recruit any cover. It was telling, however, that one misplaced clearance from Silvestri had Evans jumping on the touchline in the second half.
“Your confidence gets knocked if you concede a goal and sometimes you think you should do better with it,” Evans said. “Goalkeepers have got a bit of a union and they love competition. They’re quite unique. They go to a separate part of the training ground and work together. It’s not Marco Silvestri’s fault that he’s been left as the only choice for whoever the Leeds United coach is. Hopefully that will change. I have to be careful what I say about Uwe but what I would say is that I wouldn’t have planned to talk about (signing a keeper). I’ll just do it. Provided the president (Massimo Cellino) ticks the box, he’ll have some options.”
Silvestri’s misjudgement conceded a corner from which Shola Ameobi, Bolton’s new signing and debutant, scored with a clean strike from 12 yards out. Evans was right to say that as much as Silvestri was partly culpable, the defending from Jose Manuel Casado’s corner – driven low across the turf – was no more impressive.
“It’s very frustrating,” Evans said. “When you see (the initial cross) get whipped in, everyone in the stadium is expecting Silvestri to catch it and send us up the pitch.
“But it’s not just that. When you give little corners and set plays away and you have to deal with them. You can’t then go to the near post and miss it and you can’t lose a runner. The Premier League statisticians tell you it’s two mistakes for every goal. If you look at Fulham and today, it’s three or four for the goals. That’s far too many.”
Ameobi started the afternoon on the bench but came on in the 12th minute after Gary Madine took a blow to the head. Unintentionally, Ameobi’s involvement did Bolton a huge favour but Leeds were aggrieved by the scoreline at half-time. Tom Adeyemi side-footed a shot against a post after Liam Cooper headed on Luke Murphy’s corner. “It looked simpler to score,” Evans said. Chris Wood was then denied from six yards by the reactions of Amos. “It’s a really clever save,” United’s head coach conceded. “He was going in one direction but got back across.”
Evans’ verdict at half-time was shown by Murphy’s withdrawal and Alex Mowatt’s appearance in place of him. Leeds began to dictate the game and Adeyemi went as close again as Amos brushed the midfielder’s shot onto his left-hand post. United were troubled only by the odd counter-attack but from one of those in the 70th minute, Feeney walked through a couple of soft challenges and found himself with Silvestri to beat. A brilliant low save kept Leeds in the game.
In a matter of seconds, Prince lost his footing on the halfway line and Antenucci broke through, forcing the defender to sprint back and trip him near the penalty spot. Referee Simon Hooper awarded a penalty and sent Prince off. “I’ve got no complaints with either decision,” Neil Lennon said later.
Wood, who converted a penalty at Fulham, engaged in a brief stand-off with Antenucci before allowing the Italian to take it. Antenucci’s finish was deadly, down the middle of Amos’ goal and a long way out of reach. As Leeds waded in with the score level, Evans thought his side should have had another when an Adeyemi shot struck an arm. “It certainly should be a penalty,” Evans said, “but he (Hooper) is a good referee. I’ve always felt I get a fair crack from him.”
The only question in the final stages was whether Bolton would hang on. The time ticked by with every player bar Silvestri in their half but Amos stood untroubled throughout the closing stages. Leeds were not far away but not quite there either which at times has been true of their whole season. Evans’ honesty afterwards proved that he was not blind to the shortcomings.
He moves on now to Thursday’s game against Blackburn and the pressing task of producing a first away win in eight months. The club need it, and not only because of the length of that drought.
“We’ll get ready to get three points and it’s an absolute disgrace that this club’s not won at Elland Road for seven-and-a-half months,” Evans said.
“I want Elland Road bouncing but I want it bouncing at the end of the game.
“Our players have enjoyed the last two games. They’ve had a lot of the ball and a lot of attacking play.
“We should be getting back on the coach with two away wins but we’re going back with two draws, which doesn’t help.”