Zat Knight: Common Denominator

Zat Knight in a familiar pose - losing out to an attacker who probably scored - Laurence Griffiths

After yet another uninspiring defensive performance from Bolton last night against Trampmere, Chris takes a look at who might be a key factor and comes up with a familiar name

On the back of last night's League Cup defeat away to Tranmere Rovers, I began thinking about how we can get out of the funk that is currently enveloping the club. Make no bones about it, it has been a disastrous start to the 2013/14 Championship season for Bolton Wanderers and for manager Dougie Freedman.

The optimism of the Summer months following Wanderers' strong end of the previous campaign has all but evaporated, and the defeat against Tranmere has capped a miserable four weeks for Bolton which has yielded just two league goals and two league points from four games. There can be little doubt that the upcoming game against Blackburn Rovers has taken on massive significance, even more so than was there before.

The state of Wanderers' defence has been an issue ever since the Burnley game - and some would argue for five or six years before that. Dougie Freedman has tried various combinations in his time at the club: Zat Knight and David Wheater, Zat Knight and Craig Dawson, Zat Knight and Matt Mills, with varying degrees of success. It can be argued that the Knight/Dawson partnership was the most successful of the set - when the West Bromwich Albion loanee arrived he oversaw a definite improvement in our defensive performances which was mirrored in an improvement in results which led us to the brink of the Play Offs.

However, since Craig Dawson returned to his parent club, Wanderers have had to go back to the "Zat Knight and....." combination. There is a common denominator throughout all the defensive troubles that we have experienced. Zat Knight. Knight was brought to Bolton Wanderers by Gary Megson in 2009 for a £4m fee (that's FOUR MILLION POUNDS. FOUR MILLION POUNDS. FOUR. MILLION. POUNDS) from Aston Villa. That season, Knight was partnered by Gary Cahill, who similarly arrived from Aston Villa, as the club finished in 14th place following the appointment of new manager Owen Coyle.

Appearances

Primary Defensive Partner

Goals Conceded

League Position

35

Gary Cahill

67

14 (PL)

The following season saw the Knight and Cahill pairing continue under Coyle, as Wanderers again finished 14th following a relatively successful season, though one that finished poorly with six consecutive defeats after the now notorious FA Cup Semi Final loss to Stoke City.

Appearances

Primary Defensive Partner

Goals Conceded

League Position

34

Gary Cahill

56

14 (PL)

The 2011-12 season saw Wanderers relegated to the Championship under Owen Coyle's stewardship, finishing 18th after a forgettable season which was doomed to failure from the end of the previous campaign's collapse. The sale of Gary Cahill to Chelsea midway through the season meant that Knight was then partnered with David Wheater who arrived from Middlesbrough to replace Cahill.

Appearances

Primary Defensive Partner

Goals Conceded

League Position

25

Gary Cahill/David Wheater

77

18 (PL)

Following the failure of the Premier League season, Bolton Wanderers fans went into the Championship expecting that their still-strong squad could cope with the rigours of the lower division. However, it wasn't until March and the signing of Craig Dawson that saw Wanderers find their feet before eventually finishing 7th after a final day 2-2 home draw to Blackpool which saw the club miss out on the chance to return to the Premier League via the Play Offs.

Appearances

Primary Defensive Partner

Goals Conceded

League Position

43

Matt Mills/Tim Ream

61

7 (C)

So onto the current season, and unsurprisingly we are suffered defensively. "Zat Knight and...." has again been the default choice of the manager (meaning that Gary Megson, Owen Coyle and Dougie Freedman have now had Knight as first choice), indeed he has ascended to the captaincy of Bolton Wanderers, replacing Kevin Davies who left for Preston North End.

Knight has now made approximately 150 appearances for Bolton Wanderers in all competitions since his arrival in 2009 - he has been a virtual ever-present in the team, and has been the common denominator in a period that has brought about almost perpetual struggle for the club. His position in the team seems to be unassailable and this is causing problems. We are relying on a man who has been a key part in our recent failures, and this common denominator seems to be bullet-proof when it comes to the club management. I am not for a moment saying that I know "more" than the Bolton Wanderers manager (though with Owen Coyle I'm fairly sure that I do), but I think that it's only logical to see throughout a period of decline that his selection has been a constant.

In his time at the club, we have conceded exactly 261 league goals (excluding this current season), working out at 65 per season or thereabouts. Compare this with the previous four seasons to that when we conceded exactly 200 league goals, which breaks back to an average of 50 per season. Granted, we had better defenders then, such as Jussi Jaaskelainen, Bruno N'Gotty, Tal Ben-Haim and Abdouleye Faye, but the pre-Knight years brought out better results and better defensive performances. I appreciate that managerial organisation and signings etc play a huge part, but basically I am saying that before we signed Zat Knight we were much-less-crap at the back than since he joined.

Picking Zat Knight as a mainstay of your already-shaky defence is one thing, but his rise to club captain is another matter which sticks in my craw. Knight has had run-ins with Bolton Wanderers fans before - most notoriously following a game against Fulham at Craven Cottage in which Knight was his usual abysmal self, before leaving the field at full-time after our defeat with a thick grin on his face. This sort of thing irks the regular fan, and Knight was guilty.

I do not know of a single Bolton Wanderers fan who rates Zat Knight. I do not know of a single Bolton Wanderers fan who wouldn't sell Zat Knight, if someone stupid enough to take him off our hands would magically come along. In fact, I'm considering starting a petition - if enough supporters chipped in a tenner apiece then perhaps we could pay off his contract and get rid.

Zat Knight has been the common denominator throughout our decline. He inspires zero confidence in me as a fan watching the team, I am just waiting for his next mistake.

Usually I am not waiting long.

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