A season in the nPower Championship is a marathon, not a sprint, even though it can move very fast. Mile after mile, match after match, it just keeps going, no matter how tired, sick, or frustrated one becomes, now matter how angry your teammates (or manager) make you, no matter how much your knee hurts, it just keeps going. Sometimes, this is a bad thing. If several players are injured, the losses are piling up, and midweek games seem to magically appear on the schedule, it can be horrible.
For Bolton, this is not one of those horrible times. As disappointing as the performance Saturday was, it still gave Wanderers a point. That is two straight matches where the Whites have fought back from a goal down, once for a draw, once for a win. And given the newfound depth of Dougie Freedman's suddenly healthy squad, more games played is not necessarily a bad thing.
Marc Iles of The Bolton News wrote about Freedman's rotation policies on Saturday, and I think that will really come into play on Tuesday's trip to Derbyshire. Given the size and diversity of the Bolton squad, Dougie can make several changes based on who Wanderers are playing and what strengths and weaknesses Bolton (or their opponent) may want to exploit. Some want to see a return to the 4-4-2 formation. Others might want to see Stu Holden return to the center of the pitch. Still more people refuse to accept any Bolton side that does not include Kevin Davies. Whatever your personal opinion is, there is little question that Freedman will need to make changes for this match.
The most worrying change is going to be at left back. Since he moved into the starting XI in late December, Marcos Alonso has been a revelation, threatening in attack, solid in defense, almost always fitter and more talented than his opponent. Yet he was sent off on Saturday after receiving two yellow cards within eight minutes of each other. Some might believe it was silly on his part, others may think the referee was harsh. Either way, someone is going to have to play left back. The most obvious choice is Sam Ricketts. Over the last few seasons, Ricketts has been a mediocre left back. We thought he was better than that at one point, but that was only because he was replacing the train wreck that is Paul Robinson.
Ricketts has been more or less solid this season when playing as a central defender, but he has been poor at right back, and downright terrible at left back. Freedman may have to think outside of the box for this one. I would give Tim Ream a try. He has decent enough pace and a solid left foot. Moving him outside may even neutralize some of his weaknesses.
That is an enforced change. I assume that Mark Davies will also fall into that category. He came back from injury on Saturday, went straight into the team, and played all 90 minutes, the last bit of it with only ten men. If he is available at all on Tuesday I will be shocked. Davies' injury, which kept him out just over two months, was to his shoulder. Given that he had full use of his lower extremities, he was certainly able to maintain a higher level of fitness than say Josh Vela (who suffered a knee injury), or Matt Mills (groin) over a similar period of time. However, even if Mark Davies is physically capable of playing another 90 minutes on Tuesday, it doesn't make any sense for him to do so.
First of all, he wasn't any good on Saturday. In fact, you can count on one hand the amount of good matches he has played the whole season. Second, we have loads of other options. I expect to see a substantial shift in central midfield tomorrow night. I wouldn't be surprised if it were an entirely different starting trio.
Then there are the strikers. As is well-documented, we have a full assortment. New-boy Craig Davies has scored in the last two matches. Young Marvin Sordell has four goals in his last six matches. David Ngog scored one and created another last week, and looks to have already formed a good partnership with Craig Davies. Even Tom Eaves is banging them in for the reserves, just as he banged them in during his loan spell at Bristol Rovers. So, of course, Kevin Davies (14 matches without scoring) started against Nottingham Forest. I honestly have no idea who Freedman will go with up front on Tuesday, I am not even sure if it will be one forward or two. I just hope he has noticed that we need goals, and all of our forwards save one seem to be getting goals recently.
This is an important game. Derby County currently sit 9th in the nPower Championship table with 43 points. Bolton cannot catch them with a win, but do move substantially closer. And if there is to be a late push up the table, the clubs which are mid-table at the moment have to lose points as we gain them. Go on lads!