"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play!" - Alex Livesey
Traditionally, meaning in the last ten years, the FA Cup has allowed managers to give some of their fringe players a chance to get some time on the pitch, and possibly earn more time in the future. We'd like to see Dougie Freedman try this against Sunderland this weekend.
There is a story in this morning's Bolton News (as well as other places) about the possibility that Dougie Freedman will give some younger players a chance in Saturday's FA Cup match. I hope that it is true.
As we all know, Bolton have been numbingly inconsistent over the past two seasons. Under previous management, we found it to be par for the course, but Freedman's primary goal was to bring that consistency to a struggling, but talented side. At the start it looked as if he might succeed. Seven straight without a loss (although it was mostly draws) was a good start. However, since then the players seem to have fallen into a lot of their old habits.
There could be several reasons for the regression. In my eyes, one of the main culprits is lack of competition for certain players at certain positions. Now let me get one thing straight; I am not saying that players are consciously not trying their best. In fact, I think that entire argument is absurd. A football player does not get to (and remain at) this level by choosing when to play and when not to play. That said, much like a mother lifting a car off her trapped child, there can be circumstances where a player is pushed to a higher level by the situation. Conversely, when one is not being pushed or challenged, there is a subconscious tendency to relax a bit, this is human nature.
So, how does Dougie give his ever-presents a kick up the backside? Simple. Pick someone else! An example; Since it has become clear that Chung-Yong Lee and Martin Petrov are competing for one spot in the starting XI, both have had their best run of form this season. Adam Bogdan, on the other hand, seems to have regressed since he became the unquestioned number one. Chris Eagles is another example of this. Since he won his Player of the Month Award in September and became the "first name on the team sheet," his play has declined and his inconsistency has increased.
I'm not saying these guys are bad players, and in fact, they should start most matches. But it doesn't hurt to have a little bit of an incentive to look over your shoulder. Even an old warhorse like Kevin Davies seems to have found an extra gear since David Ngog started showing his talents under Dougie Freedman. So ring in the changes Saturday! Here is my idea:
Will that team beat Sunderland? Who knows? But something needs to be changed in this squad, and giving some of the fringe players, particularly the youngsters, a chance to impress is as good an idea as any.