After two matches with Jimmy Phillips at the helm, we thought we had a fair idea what to expect. He had stuck with Owen Coyle's 4-4-2, although there had been much more flexibility in the shape than there appeared to be under Coyle. There wasn't much change in personnel either. Benik Afobe got a bit more time on the pitch. Martin Petrov moved into the starting XI, as did Tim Ream. Keith Andrews went to the bench. That was it.
Everything is different now though. This is not a case of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Dougie Freedman has very different ideas about how to win football matches from Owen Coyle. Whether or not we believe Phillips was auditioning for the head job, that is certainly no longer an option. It is naive to think that Freedman had not talked to the coaching staff about his plans going forward. How much of an effect did that have on Phillips' tactics and squad selection?
Boro were flying high coming into this match, sitting third in the table, with seven wins from their twelve matches in the league. They had won their last three matches, and manager Tony Mowbray seemed to have them well on the way to a Premier League return.
Bolton had played well over the last week, so again, why change anything? Against both Bristol City and Wolves, Wanderers spent large portions of the match playing a 4-2-3-1 formation. Often this involved one of the strikers dropping deep. Many of us were asking on Twitter, Facebook, and Lion of Vienna Suite, "why?" If we are going to play with five midfielders, why not play five midfielders? That happened today.
Chung-Yong Lee made his return to the starting XI today, and promptly repaid the favor with a first half goal. It was a brilliant finish, a tidy chip after bringing the keeper out, and it may mean that the class player from a few years ago is back. Before his injury layoff Chungy was one of the better wingers in the Premier League. He looked great before tiring in the second half. If he makes a return to that form he will absolutely tear this league apart.
Things were looking good for Bolton Wanderers at halftime, but, of course, the ominous signs were there. Middlesbrough had created several good chances in the first half. As early as halftime Bolton fans started calling for Keith Andrews to be subbed on for one of the attacking midfielders. Unfortunately, this sub never came.
What did come was a brace from Scott McDonald, both goals on rather easy finishes. The defensive partnership of Tim Ream and Sam Rickketts actually looked OK for long stretches, but the two late goals made it clear there are still a lot of defensive problems to be solved.
Bolton created a few chances late, and once again went to three at the back in an attempt to get an equalizer. But Boro are not Wolves. As I wrote earlier, Boro are a good side in excellent form, and this was never gong to be an easy match. But you can't be successful conceding an average of two goals per match. We create loads of chances. We score a fair number of goals. To be honest, Dougie Freedman does not have much to worry about with the attack. But he surely has his work cut out for him on the other side of the pitch.
Monday starts a new era, and the new man has a full week to tighten up the defense before another highflying side, Cardiff City, visit the Reebok. To make things even more fun, a huge international TV audience will be watching.