After what was way too long without Wanderers football, preseason has gloriously rolled into our lives this last month. There's been nothing glorious about the way the squad have been playing though. In the three games played, Bolton have lost two and drawn one, conceding six goals total. There's been an outcry from the fans when it comes to the form of the team thus far, and most of it, at least in my opinion, is only slightly justified. The results so far have started to worry a couple of people, but the unhappiness of fans brings up the standard question for preseason: Should we be using this time to get fit and learn about our strengths and weaknesses or put our best foot forward and head into the season with fours wins already under our belt?
I can understand the unhappiness people have with the team doing worse than they expected, especially because it's been a while since we've been able to see them play. It's normal to want a win to welcome us back to the season; I can't think of any fan who hopes for their own team to lose. If you pay to go see your team play, you have a right to complain, but will complaining change the result or guarantee the next game goes better? This squad has been together for a fair amount of time, so the chemistry is already growing, but complaining won't make it just appear. Granted, three games in I would like to see a little bit of stability.
For me though, preseason is a time, a reasonable, stress-free time, to see how well the team works in action. It's one thing to play your offense against your own defense, but it's a totally different experience playing against an actual opponent. No one, not even Dougie Freedman can think of all the scenarios that an opposing team could throw at us. Preseason allows for mistakes and allows Freedman to make the proper adjustments while allowing the players to feel comfortable and confident in their improvement. Winning is nice, but when we lose, it's easier for Freedman to see what adjustments need to be made; winning could potentially hide some flaw the squad has that could hurt us later on in the season when it really matters.
The smartest thing that Freedman has done with this time is play around with all the possibilities he has while he still can. He's been moving players around because it's just impossible for us to afford even one more defender with our budget, and it's no secret that our current defense is lacking some things. I'm more than confident that Dougie knows what team will work for us, but he's still looking to add on and he wants to give players a chance to show what they can offer. By being able to see how each and every player reacts during a game, Freedman basically already knows who could fill in gaps if, unluckily, there were to be any injuries this season. We can always be better and more consistent and you have to praise a manager who is just trying to cover all his bases, even if it means a couple of preseason losses.
In the end, I think that the way we've been handling preseason is the best for our squad, even if it's not what some people would like to hear. Losing now doesn't mean we don't have a good chance of doing well this season, it just means we're being smart with the time and opportunities we have. Winning during the season when it matters is not optional, it's what we want and the only way to ensure we have a chance of winning the league is if we sacrifice a bit (even if it's all four preseason games), so that we're prepared for anything that comes our way.