Dougie Freedman made four changes from Bolton's previous match in naming the first team of his Wanderers career. Defenders Tim Ream and Tyrone Mears were dropped (Mears was not even in the squad), along with midfielders Jay Spearing and Martin Petrov. Three of the players that were recalled (Zat Knight, Matt Mills, Keith Andrews) have spent a lot of time on the pitch for Bolton this season. These were not drastic changes. The fourth change was quite drastic. Dougie brought Darren Pratley in from the cold and gave him his first start in the league this season. One had to wonder if any of these players would figure in the MOTM discussion.
I thought Darren Pratley had a decent first half. He was running nonstop, I suspect because he wanted to prove that he deserved this chance. He also was getting forward in support of his striker, something that has been lacking in the Bolton central midfield this season. He pressed the Cardiff back line pretty heavily, forcing them into a few errors. He also played two brilliant balls forward to Chung-Yong Lee, who was not able to take advantage of them.
And that kind of sums up Chungy's day. He was very involved in the match, and made some nice forward runs, but the final ball just eluded him. He also did a nice job defensively, giving Samuel Ricketts a lot of support on the right. On the negative side, Lee no longer seems to hug the touchline to give Wanderers the width that as been so critical in attack the last few seasons. He spent large portions of the match tucked inside, making things easier for the Cardiff defense.
How about Mark Davies? He won the sponsor's Man of the Match. But not the coveted Lion of Vienna Suite Grape Delight, not today. He was solid in the midfield, and his mazy forward run past multiple defenders and into the Cardiff City penalty area created the second goal. But, as has always been his problem, he disappeared for large stretches of the match, notably in the first half.
Dougie Freedman's first match in charge featured a use of substitutions the likes of which we have not seen since the Sam Allardyce era. They were decisive, they were aggressive, they were proactive, and they changed the match completely. It seems a little like cheating to give our new manager the MOTM, so let's just say he made a nice start.
And then there are the substitutes. Martin Petrov was no doubt unhappy to be dropped. He barely played under Owen Coyle this season, and when Jimmy Phillips returned him to the starting XI, he looked very good. When he came on in the second half, Bolton started to dominate, and he was a big part of it. He ran at the defense, put in a lot of pinpoint crosses, created chances for his teammates, and of course put away the penalty that ultimately proved to be the game winner.
And then there was David Ngog. Ngog partnered Kevin Davies up top for a fair part of last season, and even replaced him for a while in the single striker formations. But he ha shad a lot of problems this season, primarily with a back injury that forced him to start the season late, and has prevented him from reaching peak fitness levels. But those problems ended today.
Every time Ngog touched the ball he looked a threat to score. He won everything near him in the air. He turned and got past defenders routinely, running at them with pace and purpose when he did. He created opportunities for others. He scored a good goal which was improperly disallowed. Then he won a penalty which Petrov put away. Then he scored his own goal with a tidy little finish. Then he got sent off for a second yellow card. It was perhaps the most eventful twenty-five minutes I have ever seen a single player have.
The reviews of David Ngog have been decidedly mixed since he arrived from Liverpool. Some have always thought that the young Frenchman had the ability to dominate a match as he did today. We will have to wait until after his suspension to see if it can continue. As for now, he will have to be content with the Lion of Vienna Suite Man of the Match Award. Vote for your choice below!