After last Saturday’s humiliating defeat at Reading it leaves Bolton Wanderers supporters wondering what can be salvaged from a wreckage of a season. Bolton started the season as one of the bookmaker’s favourites for promotion and with good reason. A strong finish to the previous season saw Bolton just miss the play-offs on goal difference and the summer saw a supposedly strong squad strengthened with what looked like a few decent signings.
However after 26 games Bolton have only managed a meagre 28 points and currently sit 4 points above the bottom three. With confidence shattered after the mauling at Reading it could become a lot worse for Bolton as bigger clubs have dropped out of the championship in recent years.
The one hope to cling to is that the club can somehow shift some of the players who are earning Premier League wages, in return for sub-standard performances on the pitch, to make room for some new signings in the remainder of the transfer window and freshen up the squad. Following last Saturdays game Dougie Freedman was very critical of his players claiming a nucleus of them where not good enough for the championship. This echoes his comments after a heavy defeat at Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season. That time he claimed that players would be sold and big changes were about to happen, they didn’t. As hard as Dougie Freedman tries to move on players other clubs aren’t willing to touch them, as was the case back in August. This transfer window has been equally disappointing so far with the only business being an extension to Neil Danns’ loan and little rumour of new players being brought in.
One player I’m sure most Bolton supporters would like to see back at the club is Kevin McNaughton whose loan spell coincided with the some of the team’s best performance’s this season. It seems to be characters like this that the Bolton squad lacks, players who know how to win in the championship and are willing to work hard for it, although it would be nice to have any players who knew how to win at the moment. With only four fit ‘defenders’ this is an area that desperately needs strengthening, especially at full back and a proper centre half wouldn’t do any harm. Further forward with Jermaine Beckford injured and David N’gog looking likely to leave another striker is a must with Danny Graham so far the only player linked.
As for Bolton’s current managerial situation there seems to be a difference of opinion between supporters as to whether Dougie Freedman should be relieved of his duties or be given more time. I personally would give him a little more time to shift the big earners from the squad and bring in his own players. However with the size of the clubs debt’s that were recently in the news it may be a lot more difficult to bring players in than Freedman could have possibly imagined when he first took the job. He often speaks of developing young players and his plans for turning Bolton into a trading club but there hasn’t been much evidence of this so far. He has signed a number of young players for the development squad who have achieved some eye catching results but Freedman seems reluctant to blood them in the first team. I’m sure they could not do any worse than the current first team and with injury problems again hitting the squad now would be as good a time as any to get them involved. His record with permanent signings has been mixed so far but he does seem to have an eye for a player as shown from his time with Crystal Palace where he was able to build a solid efficient team.
In terms of his tactical approach to games Freedman seems to strongly favour a cautious style of play often with one striker and a player in the ‘hole’ just behind. This has not been successful so far this season and helps to explain why Bolton has won just two games at home. Visiting teams are happy to sit back and have often look comfortable whilst always looking a threat on the counter attack up against a Bolton defence that does not keep many clean sheets. Away from home Bolton have picked up a reasonable four wins but have also suffered heavy defeats at Blackburn, Leicester and Reading. Freedman seems to be trying to find a happy medium between defensive solidarity and attacking flair but it would seem his instincts will always favour a more cautious approach. Towards the end of last season when Bolton were making a play-off push the manager seemed a lot more flexible with his tactics and would pick the team depended on the opposition, with several different formations used. When Bolton adopted a more traditional 4-4-2 in the recent FA cup victory over Blackpool they looked more fluent and it was surprising that many of the stand out performers from that game were than left out of the following match. Freedman may find himself looked upon more favourably by the dissenters if he was willing to adopt a less cautious approach in home games and involve some of the younger players in the first team.
As for the rest of the season hopefully Bolton can avoid relegation and start to climb the league with the help of some new signings in the remainder of the transfer window. An FA cup run would also give the supporters a much needed boost and with Cardiff City at the Reebok Stadium this weekend a place in the last 16 is achievable.
With the eye watering debts that the club has managed to accumulate despite a sustained period in the Premier League, a return to the top flight looks to be a long way off and if the current players don’t knuckle down a drop into the third tier could be a real possibility. For all of the Bolton squad’s supposed ability, “hard work will always beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard”.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
James tweets at @james_O_L