The Owen Coyle project went very poorly for Bolton Wanderers last season. The club were already hearing calls for the manager's dismissal when they faced Crawley Town in their first Capitol One Cup match.The 2-1 loss to lower league opposition only served to drive one more nail into the Scotsman's coffin. Coyle's biggest issue was not that he couldn't fix the problems, but that he didn't seem to acknowledge that any problems even existed.
There are no such flaws with Dougie Freedman. He has seen the terrible defending. He hasn't managed to fix it yet, but at least we can see evidence of improvement. Of course, sometimes one has to be patient to see such evidence. Bolton's traveling support (about 640 of them) had to be patient yesterday, because Shrewsbury Town were in control of this match for much of the first half.
Newly named team captain Zat Knight had a new partner in the center of the defense for this one. He and David Wheater were so-so on Saturday against Burnley. Most supporters still don't agree on what Bolton's best defensive pairing is, and I suspect that Dougie Freedman's mindset is not all that different. He gave Tim Ream the start. Ream made one mistake early, slicing a clearance. Twitter was not amused. The Ream-as-a-left-back movement has not gained any traction, but the Ream-is-not-good-enough-at-center-back movement seems to have won the day.
The underperforming American wasn't the only player who had been given a chance to prove himself in the cup. Rob Hall and Sanmi Odelusi started on the wings. Youth, energy, and pace was on display. No to mention they had two target men to aim for in David Ngog and Craig Davies up front.
Davies nearly took advantage midway through the first half. A nice corner from Hall gave him a chance, but all Davies could do was hit the crossbar. Shrews, despite being in control of possession, were limited to long-range shots. The first goal came in the 25th minute. And it was brilliant. Rob Hall curled it around the keeper and into the bottom corner from 25 yards out. The young winger has been impressive this summer, but today was his first chance to show in a competitive match that Blackpool was a fluke. He took that chance, and looked threatening for Wanderers throughout the match.
Of course, you do have to play defense. With that in mind Bolton's back four tried to play the offside trap. It didn't work. Paul Parry's cross found Aaron Wildig in loads of space, and his finish was an easy one. It was level.
Fortunately, Bolton's young winners were only getting started. Hall put another good ball in the box, and Sanmi Odelusi, in his full debut, was able to get on the end of it for his first goal. One has to wonder if, after an initial cheer, Chris Eagles and Chung-Yong Lee were thinking they should put in a little extra training this week.
The Trotters really broke things open after the break. Odelusi scored his second with a superb finish from about 18 yards out on the left side of the box. David Ngog, something of an elder statesmen in this attack at 23 years old, made the initial run and teed up his young teammate. The top corner strike had Bolton fans jumping up and down an dreaming of glory. Dougie Freedman has gone with youth in a position many thought lacked depth, and it is paying off early.
This is what Bolton should be doing to lower league opposition. The club is now in the second round of the Capitol One Cup, and has a good deal of momentum heading into the home opener this weekend. The back line conceded another poor goal. New signing Andre Moritz made his debut int he second half. But all the talk will be of Sanmi Odelusi's electric debut, Rob Hall's impressive display, and what affect that will have on Dougie's team sheet in a few days time.