1. Beckford has found form
Summer signing Jermaine Beckford has struggled to settle in to the Bolton playing style and has often found himself making lung-busting runs which his team-mates have simply taken no notice of whatsoever. Beckford now has 3 in 4 and is very much looking in sync with his colleagues in white. There are a number of reasons for this, none more so than Darren Pratley's recent exclusion from the Wanderers side. The former Swansea midfielder often invaded the areas where Beckford is most dangerous and Pratley lacked the quality to get the ball to the forward which saw a frequent breakdown in play.
Another reason for the former Everton striker's resurgence is that Beckford is choosing when to run. Bolton's style is changing as we are now looking to play deep in our own half and use our ability to counter quickly when winning possession. The system allows Beckford the chance to run at an isolated centre-back on occasion and this, certainly in his time at Bolton, would appear to be when he is at his strongest. Beckford was able to capitalise on a Bolton counter to score against against Bournemouth, in similar fashion to his goal away at Birmingham.
2. Bolton have become hard to break down
Dougie Freedman has had a tough few weeks as he has attempted to figure out exactly what is wrong with Bolton Wanderers and how to stop the slump the club has been enduring. There are signs, however, that Freedman has solved the greatest problem we had, the leaking of goals. Bolton have conceded just three in their last five games, compared with twelve in the proceeding five. Bolton are becoming a solid defensive unit as the partnership of Matt Mills & Tim Ream grows with each passing game.
An important aspect of this change of fortune is also the full-backs. The loan signing of Kevin McNaughton, undefeated in his time at the Reebok Stadium, has had a massive impact. Cast your minds back to Blackburn Rovers away (sorry) and remember, with pain, the endless crosses the Rovers wingers delivered into the Bolton box, McNaughton and Alex Baptiste, successfully switched to left back, have greatly reduced the crosses allowed.
AFC Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe praised the defensive work of Bolton as his side could not work in the tight space offered by the Wanderers midfield and defence. If Bolton are to do anything of value this season, then it is vital they continue the good defensive work.
3. Perhaps Medo Kamara & Jay Spearing can play together after all
Medo Kamara & North West Football Championship Player of the Year Jay Spearing have struggled to form a partnership as many hoped they would prior to this season. Whilst it was not quite the Lampard-Gerrard conundrum, it was still a very difficult problem to solve and quite frequently cost Sierra Leone International Medo a place in the starting line-up. Bolton Wanderers have changed, certainly away from home, and have taken lessons from the blueprint which effectively beat Birmingham City at St Andrews. An admittedly subjective but perhaps good way to give this some context is to compare it with Bolton's last successful central midfield partnership, Stuart Holden & Fabrice Muamba. With these two, the roles were very easy to establish due to the players respective playing styles, Medo & Spearing do not have that luxury.
In recent weeks, perhaps due to a drop in confidence caused by so many missed passes, Spearing has become the ball-playing midfielder of the two, the Holden if you will, continuing his hard defensive work, but taking on the responsibility of turning Bolton's defence into attack quickly. Kamara on the other hand has impressed with his defensive work and running down the opposition into mistakes, the metaphorical Muamba role.
In a system such as the one deployed in the two away games mentioned, where there is no reliance on passing and ball retention (Wanderers managed more shots than Bournemouth despite only having 38% possession in the game), there is no reason why the two cannot play together. Despite what many may think, there is a lot more to football than keeping the ball, the Wanderers are clearly more effective at playing the game in their own half looking for opportunities to break and their midfield can flourish in that system.
4. 'Spot on tactics?'
Dougie Freedman, has had to watch with frustration for the most part this season as opponents, particularly at the Reebok Stadium, have come up against his side with super-effective game plans and not only neutralised the threat of his talented Bolton side, but also caused them severe problems defending on the counter attack.
It must have been a huge joy for Bolton to secure their second consecutive away win of the season. The former Crystal Palace manager was quick to attribute the victory to ‘Spot on tactics' after Freedman announced the squad ‘worked a lot on our tactics this week.'
The system utilised against AFC Bournemouth and in games previous appears to be our most effective way of playing. Lets be frank here, we are talking about negative tactics, the sort of which we crucified Gary Megson for. I did not hear Dougie Freedman using words like ‘frustrate' and ‘counter' when I attended the fans forum at the beginning of the season. There is merit in the defensive aspect of the game and as Neil Danns accurately says, football is indeed a results business, but let's not get carried away. This is my personal opinion.
5. Neil Danns
Neil Danns has reminded a lot of us of the other kind of ‘number 10,' an industrious player with a knack for always being in the thick of the action, similar to Kevin Nolan. Danns did a lot of the ground work that has so often left Jermaine Beckford frozen out of games and I for one will certainly be sorry to see the Leicester midfielder return to his former club. I was particularly sceptical of the Danns signing but I am more than happy to be proved wrong!