For the first time this season Bolton are closer to the playoff positions(7 spots and 7 points) than they are to the relegation zone (9 spots and 11 points). That is certainly good news. Another piece of good news: Under the new manager, more of the squad is contributing to the success Wanderers are starting to have. Dougie Freedman's rotation policy has come in for some criticism, but overall it seems to be working.
Two weeks ago we looked at how that rotation was manifesting itself, specifically what Freedman was doing with Bolton's forwards, considering that he preferred to start one striker up front supported by three attacking midfielders. Today we are going to revisit that question. Why? Because we appear to have two strikers capable (and worthy) of the starting spot, yet only one of them will start most matches. What will Dougie do?
David Ngog and Kevin Davies have been Bolton's best forwards this season. Probably last season as well. The big difference between the two is age. When Davies made his big money move to Blackburn Rovers in 1998, for £7.5 million, Ngog was a nine-year-old boy. Ten years later, Ngog moved to Liverpool.
Birthdays aside, the two players do have several things in common. They are both very good in the air. A few years ago Davies was probably better, but his advancing age coupled with Ngog's superior size has them even at this point.
Both have excellent work rates and cover a lot of ground, often pressing opposition defenders and winning the ball back for the Trotters. Davies has never been what you call fast, so the young Frenchman has surpassed the Englishman in this area. Maybe Davies is still better with a longbow.
In a one striker system, holding the ball up and bringing your teammates into play is critical. Davies and Ngog are both good at this, although they accomplish it in different ways. Super Kev is famous for his flick-ons. He wins a ball in the air without controlling it himself, yet putting it in an area where one of his midfielders can run onto it and into a counter attack. Ngog has a better first touch, and prefers to bring the ball down, then find one of his teammates or turn and run at the defense.
Finally, goal scoring. In a one striker system, the number of goals your forward has is not necessarily the most important statistic. At the moment, Davies has six goals and Ngog has four. To be fair, Davies has spent a lot more time on the pitch. But we know Davies has never been a great finisher, and that is not going to change at this point in his career. Ngog is probably a better scorer overall, but he has been less aggressive in putting shots on goal. If his last few appearances are indicative of a pattern, that could be changing.
So what should be done? I think Kevin Davies will get the majority of the starts, but not by much. I also think they will spend more time paired together than we would expect. In situations like we had against Charlton Saturday, when the match is close and Bolton are in control of the midfield, I believe it is appropriate to dust off Owen Coyle's beloved 4-4-2 formation. The reason for this is simple. Ngog is a much bigger goal threat when he is playing off Davies as the second striker. The youngster is one of those rare forwards that can play the number 9 target man role and the number 10 creative goal scorer role.
Ultimately, as time goes on, David Ngog will take over as Bolton's top forward, ideally for years to come. However, this season appears to be the Captain's last hurrah, and Kevin Davies will get the lion's share of playing time at the point of attack.