‘Small margins’ - Joey Barton’s honest admission after Bristol Rovers v Bolton
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The Trotters concluded the regular season with victory at the Memorial Stadium despite Ian Evatt making several changes. James Trafford, Conor Bradley and Kyle Dempsey were all rested ahead of their League One play-off next week.
On-loan Manchester United striker Shola Shoretire opened the scoring before Luca Hoole equalised four minutes later. Josh Coburn nearly put the Gas in front but his header cannoned off the crossbar and was substituted off for suspected concussion.
Rovers were made to rue that missed chance with Dan Nlundulu restoring Bolton’s lead before Aaron Morley created a two-goal advantage. John Marquis pulled one back for Rovers with five minutes to go but could not find the leveller.
In his assessment of the match, he said: "In spells, certainly towards the end of the first half. Their goalkeeper has made a great save and tips the header onto the bar and he gets up to save the rebound. Josh bangs his head on the post and gets concussion.
"We’d go in 2-1 up with Josh scoring a goal, great we’re in the ascendency and the fans are at it. Instead, you go in 1-1, you’re having to make a substitute because your centre-forward has got concussion.
"We adjust from that, and I thought we were the better team in the second period. Certainly probing trying to get a goal. As has been the Achilles heel all season, one long punt up the pitch, we don’t deal with it, we don’t deal with the second phase of it, and their lad puts it into the back of the net.
"I just think that has been the difference with us this year. Their front two first half don’t really fire for them. They work hard and don’t really fire, the next changes are two more seniors are brought on. Cameron Jerome and Victor Adeboyejo were bought in January.
"I think just having Shola Shoretire, I know he’s on loan from Manchester United, and you look at the players they haven’t had here today; Conor Bradley and Kyle Dempsey, etc. They are clearly ahead of us at this moment in time as the league table shows."
Bolton will face fellow former Premier League side Barnsley over two legs with the victor facing either Sheffield Wednesday or Peterborough United. Their success this season along with Plymouth Argyle has been suggested as something that Rovers could look to emulate with similarities.
Last season, Bolton finished ninth in their first season in the third tier after being relegated in 2020. They started their League Two season slowly but went on to win promotion and after a season of consolidation have now put themselves in a position to challenge for promotion.
Barton added: "They were in a similar position to us, finished third, had a slow start in League Two under Ian Evatt when he first left Barrow, managed to close that gap really quickly and get promoted. Consolidated last year and finished higher than what we did. They’ve kicked on again and got into the playoffs.
"Them and Plymouth, there is a route map or a blueprint for us to follow but we’ve got a lot of work to do now in the off-season. Today we’ve seen the small margins that decide games and unfortunately their players are just that little bit ahead of ours. We’ve got to work hard to close that gap in the next period."