Following Bolton's latest performance at home to Leicester, Chris Manning takes a look at what we might have learned.
1) PLAYING THE LONG GAME
We’re all realists, we know that we are not going to play beautiful Barcelona style football, and we know that over the years we have gained a sometimes unfair reputation as being a one-dimensional long-ball side. Whilst I believe this to be essentially untrue, I do understand the accusation and where it is coming from.
Last night we saw a team still coming to terms with the demands of a new formation and a new manager who is still trying to get his ideas across, and I believe that our forward play suffered as a result. When you have somebody as competent in the air as Kevin Davies then the temptation will always exist to hoof it long and to feed upon the scraps that come afterwards. The desire of the likes of the defenders, most notably Mills, to get the ball forward as soon as possible rendered us predictable in attack, and I would be delighted if this was addressed ASAP by the management. I’m not expecting Mills to turn into Cahill overnight, but a little more composure wouldn’t go amiss.
2) THE LONE STRIKER ROLE
As we saw previously, Dougie Freedman is a firm 4-2-3-1 man, with the lone striker on both occasions being Kevin Davies. Against Leicester City, Davies was the focal point of the attacks with the majority of passes forward being aimed at his head with the intention of his flicks being carried forward by the onrushing central attacker in the forward ‘3’ – these flicks were invariably won, but he was let down by the lack of anticipation shown mainly by Pratley who was too often caught on his heels and subsequently lost any attacking impetus that Davies had gained.
However, the lack of mobility from Davies was a problem. The man is an undisputed club legend, and I am not advocating that we put him out to pasture just yet, but the game last night was crying out for more movement and variety up front. It was a crying shame that Ngog was unavailable as his ability to drag defenders across the pitch and bring others into the game would have been key. In my opinion, Kevin Davies still has a vital part to play in our season, but I would not be upset if we brought Ngog in at the weekend.
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3) MARK DAVIES' NEW POSITION
So often an enigma in his time at Bolton, Mark Davies has been utilised very differently by the new manager in both games so far. Playing in a deeper role in front of the central defenders, Davies has been asked to bring the ball out and begin the attacks himself – giving him more responsibility and I think he is flourishing.
When previously used further forward Davies’ lack of a cutting edge often led us to positions where we needed to be more ruthless, and this change in position has meant that we get the best of his abilities – running with the ball and committing defenders – whilst also having someone alongside the defensive midfielders who can be trusted to use the ball correctly.
This is not to say that all attacking instincts have been curtailed, only an excellent save from the impressive Schmeichel stopped him registering a goal in the second half. I think the development of Davies in our side has been a key feature of the early days under Freedman and this new role could well be the making of him.
4) USE OF SUBSTITUTES
In the game against Cardiff City, the manager made two cracking substitutions which had a winning impact upon the final result – however last night things were not perhaps quite so vital in the outcome. The early subs against Cardiff were much appreciated by the crowd and seemingly by the team, as the renewed attacking impetus led us to victory.
I personally felt that it took too long to bring Petrov into the game, and considering that he is one of the best wingers in the division the decision to place him on the right side seemed more to be a nod to Eagles’ ability to cut inside and shoot than to make best use of Petrov’s crossed ability.
The introduction of Afobe continues to baffle. I see nothing from the lad to suggest that he has the ability to change a game of Subbuteo, never mind professional football. It can only be that a condition of his loan from Arsenal demands his inclusion – we should send him back immediately. The Sordell questions remains unanswered and the fact that he was left on the bench instead of Afobe also shows that his time at the club could well be coming to an end. Afobe and Sordell are young attacking players but neither has shown any real impact on a game when involved.
The decision to substitute Eagles was a troublesome one for me. I am of the opinion that he is best utilised behind the main striker, as mentioned previously, and so to bring him off when a more astute tactical move would have been to remove Pratley and put Eagles in a stronger position would have been a better choice.
5) BOOING FROM THE CROWD
We have all supported Bolton Wanderers for long enough to know that there is an element within our support who can best be described as ‘fickle’, however this element took it to another level with their response upon the final whistle last night. To boo off a side who had defended manfully and whilst perhaps being blunt at the other end finally showed a solidity sadly lacking under the previous manager was surely something to be encouraged by, and not disappointed with.
Wanderers have played two games under Freedman against two sides who have, for the majority of the season, been amongst the frontrunners in the league. We have taken four points from a possible six, in line with the Chairman’s request for ‘two points per game’ and we have only conceded one goal – I think this is a good start from the new manager and suggests that whilst the days of the cavalier Coyle approach may be over, Dougie’s attitude to the defensive side of the game may well be just what we need. Booing in this case was entirely undeserved.