Bolton Wanderers vs Brighton & Hove Albion: Five Things

Laurence Griffiths

Our man in the stands, Chris Manning, takes a look back at the hard-fought 1-0 win over Gus Poyet's high-flying birds and wonders what we can glean from the performance.

1) ANNIVERSARY OF THE BURNDEN DISASTER

Now I don't want to turn this section into a pathetic moaning whinge-fest, but I felt a little let-down by the club on Saturday. This doesn't happen often. I felt it when Gary Megson was appointed, I felt it when we had that kit with the daft little pocket,and I felt it when we signed Benik Afobe. However, all these matters are largely insignificant compared to the disappointment from this weekend.

As we all know, it was the 67th anniversary of the Burnden Disaster when 33 supporters lost their lives in an FA Cup game between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. It was, until the Ibrox Disaster of 1971 the largest loss of life in British sporting history.

Therefore such a significant anniversary should, in my opinion, be remembered. The club have their memorial service and book of remembrance open at the Reebok Stadium, which is a nice focal point for those involved or those wishing to pay respects to be able to. However for those of us who are too young to have been there and who only have the recollections of family members to go on must instead look to the club to raise awareness of the tragic events of 9th March, 1946.

It is then with that last sentence in mind that I was left a little disappointed that the game and the anniversary went by without being publically marked by the club. I can appreciate that sometimes the relatives of those involved might not want to make a fuss, but for the club to generally appear to ignore the anniversary is something that I have a problem with.

The club has a huge number of young fans, some of whom may not be aware of what happened on that fateful day in 1946, and therefore I believe that the club have a responsibility to raise awareness and to educate these supporters so that the memory of those who died is not lost. I would have expected the players to wear black armbands, or for there to be a minute silence before the game (not the distateful minute applause, however) but neither happened. I hope that there is a solid reason as to why this anniversary was not marked, though I must admit I am struggling to think of what that reason might have been.

2) SPEARING AND PRATLEY

I think at some point or other, Bolton Wanderers supporters have looked at the midfield pairing of Jay Spearing and Darren Pratley at times and given a shake of the head and a wistful pondering of the days when our midfield contained the likes of Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Per Frandsen or Scott Sellars. Whilst Spearing and Pratley between them contain about as much natural ability as the aforementioned have in their little toe there can be no doubt anymore that together they are just as effective as any of the midfielders we have had in the recent past.

Jay Spearing joined on loan from Liverpool whilst Owen Coyle was in charge, with comments attributed to Coyle that we have an option to purchase at the end of the season. His signing was met with a cautious optimism amongst the fanbase and initially he struggled to win them over. Lately, and especially against Brighton on Saturday, Spearing was superb. His desire and will to win both the match and the ball was seriously impressive, and led to him being awarded the sponsor's Man of the Match prize.

Darren Pratley has suffered similarly at the hands of the less-than-patient Reebok Stadium crowd. Signed on a free transfer from Swansea City at the start of our final Premier League campaign, Pratley often struggled with the pace of the top division, and his lack of technical skill often meant that we struggled in the centre when he was chosen to play.

Since the start of this Championship season however, Pratley has become a key member of the first eleven. His fitness and willingness to run all day has led to his inclusion being demanded by the supporters. There is nothing that we like more than to see someone busting a gut for the cause, and whilst doubts remain about Pratley's contribution to the team on the ball, there can be little doubt that his athletic abilities are a key component and an example to others in terms of how hard work and graft will be rewarded by Dougie Freedman.

I was particularly impressed, out of the two, by Spearing. I have had my doubts regarding him, but of late he has been excellent and I am happy to have been proven wrong. His desire and his involvement has been key in our recent form - even extended to him getting forward and troubling the opposition goalkeeper with long-range shots. I doubt whether we would be able to sign him on a permanent basis, should promotion be achieved, but I would be disappointed if he playing elsewhere next season.

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Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

3) STRIKER COMBINATIONS

I was a little surprised that Dougie Freedman chose to proceed with both Kevin Davies and David Ngog for the game against Brighton on Saturday. Not because of anything personal with either striker, but more because I am struggling to see how they work as a partnership. The aerial presence that Davies has is not matched with the reading of the game that Ngog requires to make the most - and Davies no longer possesses the legs to get on the end of the intricate passes that Ngog likes to feed through to his striking partner.

We have chopped and changed our strikers throughout the season, with the likes of Benik Afobe (I say striker, whereas I mean donkey), Marvin Sordell, Kevin Davies and David Ngog being used on a rotation basis to ensure fitness is kept at a maximum. I have no problem with this, especially when the likes of Ngog, who has suffered from repeated injury in his time here, has finally began to string a run of games together without falling victim to the strains and stresses that he regularly had under the previous regime.

The selection of Kevin Davies has divided opinion amonst the supporters, with some believing that the club's loyalty to the captain is misguided, whilst others still believe that he has a valuable contribution to make. Whilst I would define myself in the latter category, I do understand and appreciate where the doubters are coming from. Age catches up to everyone and as the modern game gets faster so it becomes more apparent when a player no longer has the ‘legs' that they once have. His performance against Blackburn Rovers last week was ‘classic' Kevin Davies as he bullied and fought the opposition, allowing teammates to take advantage of the space that his work created - however he found it a lot tougher on Saturday, and therefore considering both age, performance and consistency of rotation I would be surprised to see him start against Ipswich Town at the weekend.

The addition of Craig Davies has boosted the options available to Freedman, and his inclusion as a regular substitute points at a starting spot this weekend to me. His abilities lie in between those of Davies and Ngog - he has neither the brute strength of SKD, nor the finesse of Ngog - but this means that we have on our hands a footballer who is able to cope with the physicality of the division as well as provide moments of skill. I would expect him to start at Portman Road.

4) POSSIBLE INCOMING LOANS

So if the OracleTM is to be believed, we are looking at signing two from three - with the three being Kerim Frei of Fulham, Ross Barkley of Everton and Scott Sinclair of the ‘entertainment section' of tabloid newspapers.

Whilst not pretending to be an expert on any of the above, they do all fit a particular criteria which gives us an idea into the thinking of Dougie Freedman and of what he wants to bring to Bolton Wanderers at this stage of the season. Each is a young and upcoming footballer, highly thought of at their parent clubs, and each has suffered from a lack of first team minutes this season. In Frei and Barkley's case, this was supplemented by loan spells with Cardiff City (Frei), and Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United (Barkley).

Scott Sinclair however has become something of an enigma in his time at Manchester City. Following a massively successful spell at Swansea City, he made the £7m move to the current Premier League Champions and was expected to be a contributing squad member in their season - but this hasn't worked out. As I type, he has made seven league appearances out of a possible 27 available. His pedigree however is not a matter of debate - whilst playing for Swansea, Sinclair was a feared and admired opponent, capable of attacking from wide left and both scoring and setting up goals for opponents. Whilst I contend that signing Sinclair would be a real coup for Bolton Wanderers, as they would be signing someone with the potential to be one of the best players in the league - it is also something that I believe would be unlikely to happen due to the recent claims from his manager, Roberto Mancini, that Sinclair will get minutes for City as a reward for his hard work.

Therefore the signings of Kerim Frei and Ross Barkley would seem more likely. Frei (despite an initial approach apparently already having been turned down by Fulham) would bring a trickiness and creative spark that our workmanlike midfield is sometimes accused of missing. He impressed whilst on loan at Cardiff City earlier in the season, and I know they were disappointed to be unable to extend his stay in Wales. Barkley is a prospect who has been talked up in the national press, as they do with most players that David Moyes brings in, but who as yet has been unable to leave a stamp on Everton's first team in the Premier League. I know that he had some good reviews at both Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday this season and so hopefully he could bring his undoubted talents to the Reebok and repeat those good performances.

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Photo by UEFA via Getty Images

5) THE END OF THE SEASON

With the end of the season looming, and the club going all-out for promotion, we are all getting caught up in the most exciting final ten games in a long while. We now come to face Ipswich Town away from home, followed by fixtures against Charlton Athletic, Huddersfield Town and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Now, looking at these four games before Christmas, we probably would have accepted six points, such was our poor form and bleak outlook. However, now that has changed completely and we must look upon these fixtures as EXTREMELY winnable, and ones that we should be going all out to collect maximum points from.

Whilst our immediate rivals around us begin to face one another in decisive matches, we have a real opportunity to cement our place in the top six before the end of the season. All of the teams mentioned, bar Ipswich, are in questionable form and so therefore can be looked upon with a degree of confidence from a Bolton Wanderers perspective.

It will be nice to hammer another nail into the coffin of Wolves, especially - give them a nice wee push into League One.

With regard to personnel - I think this might well be the time that we see the likes of David Wheater and Stuart Holden make their return. The likes of Darren Pratley et al have made close to 30-odd appearances this season, and so fatigue is always likely to play a part at the tail end of the season. One thing we have working in our favour is that we have a squad depth that is matched by few in this division, and it will stand us in good stead as we approach the climax of the season and what that may bring.

Though whilst like most Bolton Wanderers supporters, I would be concerned with our ability to stay in the Premier League, should promotion be achieved, I'll worry about that when we get there.

I'm enjoying the ride too much to look at what might come afterwards.

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