It has been a long 2 years for Stuart Holden, who is finally approaching full fitness again, but it's also been a long 2 years for Bolton Wanderers fans. The American's injury in March 2011 served as the catalyst for the collapse and ultimate relegation of a Bolton team that had been challenging for the FA Cup and, dare I say it, Europe. The Reebok that Stu is returning to is a very different to the one he left 23 months ago, but just as the collapse was a combination of many factors seemingly triggered by his injury, perhaps his return can herald a turning of the tides for the Trotters.
After all, it is not just Stu who is on the cusp of recovery but, as Dennis covered comprehensively yesterday, there are quite a few players waiting to make their comeback. Dougie Freedman confirmed that Stu Holden, Mark Davies, and David Wheater will all be involved this weekend. Now that Dougie has a few extra tricks up his sleeve, it's time to see if he can play them correctly. If last weekend's substitutions against Burnley are anything to go by, things might be looking up.
And Nottingham Forest are as good a club as any to test this against. It doesn't take an expert to see that the Reds are a bit lost at the moment. After only 41 days in charge, Alex McLeish has left the club, and in his place Billy Davies has been hired, just 20 months after being sacked by Forest himself. The return of the "king" is a strange move by the club, and one that has split the fans. In his previous tenure at Forest, there were certainly some impressive aresults, but whether he can do enough to push the 13th place club to promotion spots remains to be seen. This will be Davies' first match in charge and he will be anxious to get it off to a good start, especially on the back of a loss to former Forest manager Sean O'Driscoll's Bristol City last weekend.
That said, Dougie will also be gunning hard for a result. One of Bolton's biggest problems recently has been a major lack of momentum, and after an encouraging (and tactically impressive) win against Burnley, now is the perfect time to add another win to the column, in the face of a congested fixture list coming up for the Trotters.
Speaking to the Bolton News Dougie said promotion is still within reach,
You can never say too late because that is not the right approach at all. I just feel that the way we have been playing, and with the individuals we've got coming back, then you can never, ever say that you are not trying to get promotion.
It is difficult right now because of where we are. But if you look at the next seven or eight games in a short period of time and how strong our squad is, then I won't suggest for one minute that we will win every game, but I would suggest we are capable of winning every one of those games.
As any Bolton fan will tell you, the problem has never been whether the team has been capable of winning games (one reason why relegation stung so badly), but the actual doing of the matter. This is a club that has a solid squad, dotted with bits of impressive talent. The problem ha lain with inability to turn raw materials into a finished product.
Dougie's Bolton is far from finished, there is still a lot of work to be done. But they are inching closer with every match. While I've never seen immediate promotion as an important goal, it is important that the club be in a position to gain promotion next season, and the work needs to be put in now to achieve that. Another 3 points to kick off the busy season for Bolton is just what is needed.