Is Mark Davies' unwillingness to run into open space hurting Bolton Wanderers?
"Follow me," he said, as he ran head-on into a ruck of four opposition defenders with only minimal space between them. 19 times out of 20, it's simply a suicide mission but that 20th time, it's wonderful. The seas part, the heavens explode, and the back of the net bulges as a firmly-hit ball from relatively close range makes its way through the crowd.
That is how I see Mark Davies in just about every single game that he isn't an anonymous member of the midfield in. The control that the young, Wolverhampton born-and-bred central midfielder has with the ball at his feet is more often than not commendable but it's rarely that special something that Bolton needs to get a goal.
It really does say a lot about Davies. He's an attacking player that isn't afraid to run straight at the defense but often misses the wide open spaces. Maybe he's agoraphobic. Who knows?
Mark Davies' performance against Sheffield Wednesday in September (Bolton's first, and thus far, only, road win of the season) is really the perfect example of this. Far too often this year, he's been missing on the field. When providing match commentary on Twitter, we often wonder if he's even on the field. The Wednesday game was really his first break-out performance of the season, one that earned him a bow in the Championship Team of the Week (where it was clear the pundits didn't actually watch the match).
The goal he scored proved to be the match-winner thanks in part to good vision from Kevin Davies to find Mark Davies running in.
Just look at how much space there was for Davies to run in to, giving him a number of options. He could have taken it left, right, or center. Left saw four defenders. Center had two defenders with the possibility of another two crashing in. Right had just one defender that Davies could have dragged wide and likely beat for pace.
Davies looked as though he would go right, dragging the defender out wide with him but instead took a sharp cut and broke back left, directly into three defenders. It's a good job that Davies kept the ball close to his feet because he managed to make it through the defense and finish emphatically.
Does Mark Davies' unwillingness to find space on a run say anything about his passing game? For what seems like, well, forever, we've maligned Mark Davies' passing game (or the effective lack thereof) in the final third. What really stopped him from becoming an ample replacement for Stu Holden was not being able to play that killer box into the opposition box, something that Holden did exceptionally well. An ability that allowed Kevin Davies, Ivan Klasnic, and most of all, Johan Elmander, to thrive for Bolton in the 2010, 2011 season.
It could very well be the reason that David Ngog really doesn't score, or shoot, nearly as much as he should, especially at the Championship level. A lone striker exclusively providing hold-up play and balls for other people to run on to will almost never rack up the goals, especially when they're getting no service of their own.
Mark Davies needs to see the light, created by open space, in order to be an essential asset in Bolton's promotion bid.