For the most part, Bolton retained their top players when they were relegated into the second tier of English football. Most of those top players had proven over several seasons that they were Premier League quality. Unfortunately, most of them have not played like Premier League quality players for a good part of this season.
Under the management of Dougie Freedman, many players have finally started to show their pedigree. Those are the players that are in contention for MOTM against Charlton Athletic.
Let's start from the front. David Ngog played 20 minutes and scored two goals. It was reminiscent of his whirlwind performance in Freedman's first match in charge. Both of the finishes were class, and the control that led to the finishes made us all remember why both Liverpool and Bolton have paid substantial fees for the young Frenchman. But was the brace enough to earn Ngog MOTM honors?
Let's look at the attacking midfield. Chris Eagles created a few chances, but overall has not been up to the same standards he set in September for quite some time. Chung-Yong Lee has shown glimpses this season, and had a few good moments yesterday, but he is still not at his best. Martin Petrov was impressive in his cameo, as he usually is, but didn't do enough to be in contention for MOTM.
Now, here is the truth: The most important aspect of yesterday's performance was that Bolton kept a clean sheet. It was only the third clean sheet this season, but the second under Freedman. Keep in mind, last season Bolton conceded over two goals per game, and previous to Freedman's arrival were allowing just under two goals per game. In Freedman's nine matches Bolton have conceded ten goals and kept two clean sheets.
This is huge, and while some of it is down to changed tactics, much of it is directly related to the improved play of a few specific Wanderers. Jay Spearing and Keith Andrews have both been very good in the holding midfield roles of Freedman's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. You could make a case for either one of them as MOTM. Charlton just didn't have any space in the center of the pitch. Even late on, when Ngog arrived and Bolton went into a 4-4-2 formation, the White's midfield tandem maintained control in the engine room. But they were not quite as important as one other man.
Zat Knight has been epic under the new manager. We have always known he has the physical ability, but his concentration levels and sense of positioning have been uncanny in the past six weeks. Knight was everywhere yesterday, not only winning balls on his own, but playing a leadership role in organizing the defense, something that had been sorely missed under Owen Coyle. If Knight continues to play at this level, and he has had sustained periods of excellence in the past, the Reebok can once again become a fortress, and Wanderers can quickly climb the table.