Our man in the stands Chris Manning looks back at the 4-1 mauling of the Tigers and wonders what we can glean from the performance.
1) Craig Dawson To Score at Anytime
As those who have free time on their hands know well, Wikipedia is a brilliant source of information. It also allows you to play games when in work such as 'can you get from Triple H to the Queen Mother in less than six steps' (hint - yes you can - Triple H > wrestles for Vince McMahon > hired William Regal, an Englishman > Regal hails from Staffordshire > The Queen Mother visited the Lotus Shoe Factory in October 1953). That aside, those who spend their time scouring Wikipedia for Bolton Wanderers related information will know that in Craig Dawson not only did we sign a promising England U-21 defender, but someone with an eye for a goal, shown by his excellent return of five goals in just eleven caps - put it this way, you may be surprised to know that that is a better return than his club-mate Marvin Sordell but then at the same time you will be utterly un-shocked to know that it is a better return than Benik Afobe, the man who is about as much a goal threat as a crisp packet.
Dawson's debut for the Wanderers against Burnley almost brought him two goals, with excellent corners from Jay Spearing leaving the Rochdale-born defender disappointed that he didn't get on the scoresheet. His presence and timing on each occasion left him with a good chance at the far post and he probably should have scored. Against Hull City this weekend however he made up for those missed opportunities and along the way established a betting pattern that will be followed up by Bolton fans until the end of his loan spell.
We have had the likes of Zat Knight in the side for years now, and according to the all-powerful Wikipedia, he has scored 2 goals in approximately 125 appearances, a ratio of one goal every 62.5 games, stat fans - in comparison Craig Dawson now has the same number of goals in 121 fewer appearances. If he keeps that run up until the end of the season then we could, for the first time in years, be looking at a situation at the club where we have a defender troubling the top scorer list. The last couple of goalscoring defenders at the club, namely Chris Fairclough and Gary Cahill both were important members of their sides, both being excellent defenders as well as a threat at the other end. Craig Dawson has this presence, and I would bank on him being included in the thoughts of gamblers every week. A 'Dawson to score at anytime' bet is well worth a fiver a week. In fact if he had scored the goals against Derby, Burnley and Hull that he SHOULD have, he'd be at the top of our goal charts already.
His presence is not only of benefit to the betting community, but his addition to the side has brought a new lease of life from the likes of Zat Knight and Adam Bogdan in goal. Both of whom have been in much better form since the arrival of the WBA loanee. Without trying to be too disrespectful to Tim Ream and Matt Mills, Dawson appears to be the sort of defender that we needed all along. Rugged, uncompromising and above all else solid - I'm already looking on with regret to the time when his loan spell ends. If only we'd had him last season.
2) The Importance of Being Pratley
D-Pratz. Much derided by Bolton Wanderers supporters in his first year at the club, has emerged from being a figure of fun to an essential part of a midfield combination which is working. Darren Pratley will never be a Mark Davies style attacking midfielder, able to run long distances with the ball, but what he brings to the team is an energy and a workrate that both inspires and affects the game. Against Hull City he was everywhere. From the lung-bursting run into the box on 70sec that brought about the opening goal, to his tough but disciplined tackling throughout the midfield he was a key member of the Wanderers side that so effectively stopped one of the form teams in the division.
When he was signed, I believe that we were misinformed as to the sort of player that we were getting. His record at this level as captain of Swansea City was excellent both in terms of achievements and in terms of his goal return. Therefore when Owen Coyle brought him in I believe that many looked at the numbers (thanks a lot, Wikipedia) and expected more from him than we initially saw. However, this is a man who has spent the entireity of his career pre-Bolton Wanderers had been spent in the lower leagues with Brentford and Swansea City. The Premier League is a huge step up from this level and therefore it is no great shock that Pratley found it tough to cope with the difference in pace and quality.
Now he has found his feet at the club and in this league he is becoming a very effective member of the squad and one of the first names on Dougie Freedman's team sheet at the moment. His energy in midfield is a real asset as he is able to cover ground more effectively than most. I have no idea how the club gauge fitness levels but it wouldn't surprise me if they revealed that Darren Pratley was one of the fittest in the squad.
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3) The Return of Mark Davies
Mark Davies had been out of the side since injuring a shoulder against Huddersfield Town before Christmas. It was this injury that prompted the Wanderers to go on a poor run of form, such was the importance of the young attacking midfielder to the side.
His return against Hull City this weekend was vital. He began the game playing just behind the striker, in what I believe to be his best position. His ability in running with the ball and the improvement in his finishing led to him having a big hand in three of the four goals scored. He has had trouble with maintaining this form throughout his Bolton Wanderers career to date but there can be little doubt that when on form he is one of the better players in his position around - the interest from the Premier League in the summer was batted away and indeed the lad signed a fresh contract with the club and so we can only hope that if he continues to play in the way that he did at weekend then he can be a key player as we head towards the end of the season.
We know that Mark Davies was signed to a fanfare when snapped up from Wolverhampton Wanderers and too often have supporters bemoaned his apparent lack of desire to fulfil that potential though I do believe that as he matures we will see the best of him. The Hull City midfield and defence struggled from the off to cope with his incisive running and dynamic passing. This division is full of workers, but in his case we have someone who really should be playing at a higher level.
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4) A Question of Form
One issue that has bugged Bolton Wanderers and our fans since the summer has been the phrase 'best squad in the league' with so far little evidence on show to back this up. However, at this moment in time this has finally began to be proven true.
The teams above Bolton in the Championship are working with smaller squad and what, in theory, should be met with poorer results - however these sides are, in the main, established Championship teams but who rely on playing their best players every week. Fatigue should play a part in their drop-off in form as the season progresses. I believe that this is starting to become the case. Looking at the form guide of late, Bolton Wanderers are performing much better than you might have thought:
Bolton Wanderers - 8 points from 12 available
Leicester City - 7 points from 12
Brighton - 10 points from 12
Middlesbrough - 4 from 12
Nottingham Forest - 7 from 12
Leeds United - 5 from 12
Blackburn Rovers - 6 from 12
Millwall - 3 from 12
Therefore only high-flying Brighton from the above list have performed better than the Super Whites over the last four games. This sort of form is the kind that we anticipated before the season began. Any consistent period of form can drastically affect the club's season - we are currently in a mini-purple patch ourselves and with the home game against Peterborough coming up this Tuesday we have an excellent chance to add another win to our run and boost ourselves up the table even further.
Our squad is strong, and with the returning players including internationals such as Kamara and Stuart Holden then we can look forward to a positive end of the season. We are not a million miles away from the Play Offs and so that should be our immediate target.
5) The Benefit of an Early Goal
It isn't often that Bolton Wanderers spring out of the traps and on the evidence of this season it is even less often that a Dougie Freedman Bolton Wanderers spring out of the traps. However this weekend saw the side race into a three nil lead before most people had even finished their Bovril. One added benefit of this, other than the three points, was that it avoided the sort of poisonous atmosphere that the Reebok crowd can sometimes contribute towards.
The early goals scored by Darren Pratley, Mark Davies and Craig Dawson brought a wave of something that was almost approaching positivity amongst the massed ranks. Although there will always be an element who view at 3-0 lead after ten minutes as 'well there's 80min left to mess up' but I think that the performance went a long way towards converting some of those in the crowd who might have been wavering. The way that the manager set the side up to attack with a directness seldom seen thus far allowed the Whites to bring an excitement to the game that too often our first half performances have lacked.
As mentioned above, there is no doubt that our squad contains quality. This quality has been somewhat subdued as the season has progressed but a result like this can really be the catalyst. The attacking mentality shown by the manager and the spirit in which the players took it on brought out the performance of the season - we can continue to bring this energy and this style of attacking play for the remaining games and really have a good crack at the Play-Offs. The fans have a huge part to play in this. Gone was the groaning and moaning when a mis-placed pass rolled out of touch or to an opponent - gone was the whinging and complaining when Adam Bogdan chose to punch rather than catch a dangerous cross. Instead encouragement was heard. This is the sort of support that we know our fans can give to the side and this is the sort of encouragement that can only benefit us as the season draws to a close.