Bolton Wanderers are twenty-third out of twenty-four clubs. It's a crap place to be. Of course, last year at this time we were first out of twenty, so it really doesn't mean much, if anything. There have been a lot of overreactions though, particularly on Twitter, which is really set up for hyperbole. That said, within the madness, anger, and disappointment there are some legitimate complaints.
The defending is awful. It has been awful for over a year now. This is obvious for everyone to see. What manager Owen Coyle has not done is give a real public bollocking to his defenders. It seems a lot of fans would welcome this, but I am not sure it would help keep goals out. Coyle has certainly acknowledged, through his comments as well as his actions, that the backline is a problem.
It all really began to fall apart defensively in April of 2011, when Stoke City absolutely demolished Bolton at Wembley Stadium in an FA Cup semifinal. On that day, Jussi Jaaskelainen was in goal, Gretar Steinsson at right back, Paul Robinson at left back, Gary Cahill and Zat Knight were in the middle, and Fabrice Muamba was the holding midfielder in a very aggressive and attacking 4-4-2. Only one of those players (Knight) started against Burnley on Saturday, and he is the only one who remains on the books as an active player at Bolton. So there has been an attempt to fix the issues.
The formation has also been changed. Many of us knew there would be trouble on Saturday when we saw the 4-4-2 formation and the personnel Coyle had chosen, but that was nothing compared to that horrible April day in London. On that day, Kevin Davies, Johann Elmander, Ivan Klasnic, Chung-Yong Lee, and Martin Petrov all played from the start. That's just absurd. I don't remember a lot of criticism at the time, but that is probably because Bolton supporters were so traumatized from two plus seasons of Gary Megson.
In my opinion, Coyle should not panic. It's one match, early in the season, these things happen. The manager has to take the long view. And the first thing he should learn from the long view is that this squad, as constituted, is a bad fit for the 4-4-2 formation. The backline just doesn't have the pace or discipline to play it. The midfield doesn't cover enough ground or understand positioning well enough to play it. The forwards don't link up well enough to play it. We had the most success last season when playing 4-2-3-1, and that's what we should play Tuesday night against Derby County.
The next aspect of the long view is, of course, the names on the team sheet. Honestly, we all love Kevin Davies, he is the club captain and has been a valiant servant of Bolton Wanderers for the past decade, but it's over. The last time we won a match started by Davies was against Macclesfield in January. The last time we won a league match he started was against Stoke in November. We have three young strikers who are not only faster and more mobile than Davies, but better finishers as well. One of them has to play from the start.
Keith Andrews is a short-term solution, and barely adequate at that. We need more help in the middle of the park. The transfer window closes in a week and a half, someone needs to be brought in. As for Tuesday's game, Andrews must be joined by either Chris Eagles or Darren Pratley, as he doesn't have the technical ability to link up play or threaten goal.
At the back, I would start Marcos Alonso over Ricketts at left back. I like Ricketts, but he just doesn't have the raw talent of Alonso. As for Knight and Tim Ream, I would give them another few matches, but the patience has to be growing thin. I would bring in another central defender as well, but Coyle doesn't seem to be concentrating on that.
Make those changes for Tuesday, playing at home, and I think we can get three points.