Evatt | Promotion Picture Gives New Look

Evatt applause Barnsley home

Ian Evatt believes Wanderers’ place in the thick of the League One promotion race reflects the progress they have made as they face one of their big rivals tonight, writes Pete Oliver.

The Whites head to Barnsley on Tuesday evening knowing a point would take them into the top two and one of the division’s automatic promotion places.

Evatt’s men are also looking to keep Barnsley at arm’s length by avenging a 1-0 loss at Oakwell in the play-off semi-finals in May which ended hopes of going up to the Championship last season.

Wanderers’ fifth-place finish in 2022/23 came on the back of a final points’ tally of 81, with Evatt’s current side just 12 adrift of that total this time around with 11 games to go of a season which has seen them constantly up with the promotion pace.

“We're all judged on what happens at the end of the season and that's really important to remember,” said the Wanderers’ boss, whose team beat Cambridge United 2-0 on Saturday to restore momentum ahead of the trip to South Yorkshire.

Evatt touchline Cambridge

“People will have their own idea of what success looks like for us come the end of this season but, from my perspective, there are key indicators to our progress.

“Last season we were never involved really in an automatic promotion fight. This season we have been in the top three for 23-24 weeks and always had games in hand on the ones above us.

“So it has changed, we have improved, and now we have to go and complete the job and that starts with a really challenging game tonight.

“In this block there are four more games and we have spoken about that within camp. Four big games and they're all important because they all count for the same number of points. But in those four, we play two of our direct competitors and we know the importance of that.”

As well as the trip to Barnsley – three points behind third-placed Wanderers with a game in hand thanks to a run of just one league loss since November – the Whites also go to second-placed Derby County before an international break later this month.

"There aren't many secrets left between the two teams. I think they know a lot about us and we know a lot about them and who plays well on the night will win."
Ian Evatt

Evatt believes his side will then be well equipped for the run-in after time to recuperate following a hectic start to 2024 which will have seen them play 20 times and start two abandoned fixtures by the time they leave Pride Park in mid-March.

The Whites’ manager expects his squad to benefit from more time to train and the return of key men from injury as he looks to them to stay in touch at the top over the next four fixtures, starting with the visit to Barnsley, who drew 1-1 at the Toughsheet Community Stadium at the start of February.

“Our best performances are when we have had time on the grass, we get players back from injury and get players fully up to speed and I think the last seven games will be extremely exciting,” added Evatt ahead of a seventh meeting between Bolton and Barnsley in less than 18 months.

“But for now we've got to focus on these next four games and certainly our focus is going to be on Barnsley. It is a cracking game. There aren't many secrets left between the two teams. I think they know a lot about us and we know a lot about them and who plays well on the night will win.

“It's down to execution and we have to perform in the manner that we have done in the last two games and, obviously, take more chances. The game will probably be a lot quicker than it was on Saturday but we're ready for it and that's all I can say. There are 11 big games to go and this is the first one of those.”

Watch the manager's pre-match interview on Wanderers TV HERE

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