We are just five matches into the Championship season and to say that it has not gone well for Bolton Wanderers is a bit of an understatement. From those five outings, Bolton have returned with just two points, having scored a grand total of three goals while allowing ten at the other end. In four of those five matches, the midfield has been anchored by the partnership of Medo Kamara and Jay Spearing, a pairing that saw its beginnings under Dougie Freedman last season.
There is no question that the two players are individually very good as central midfielders, especially in the Championship. Yet despite their quality, the results are not coming. It has led us to wonder: is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Following Medo's signing in the January transfer window last season, the pair of Kamara and Spearing have started a total of seven matches together. In those seven matches, Bolton Wanderers won on just two occasions, taking the three points at Blackburn Rovers and at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. They lost four times, leaving the Charlton Athletic, Nottingham Forest, Queens Park Rangers, and Blackburn Rovers (the last three came this season) empty handed. The remaining match was a draw, coming earlier this season at home against Reading. In those seven matches, Bolton have scored seven goals while conceding 12, leading to an average of one point per game, one goal scored per game, and 1.7 conceded per game. Keep in mind that seven games is a small sample size and not one to build a definitive trend off of.
Prior to Medo's signing, Jay Spearing was the established central midfielder with a number of different partnerships that included Keith Andrews, Josh Vela, Darren Pratley, Mark Davies, and others. Jay Spearing started 33 matches last season without Medo Kamara next to him. In that span, Bolton wanderers won 13, lost ten, and drew ten for an average of 1.48 points per game. With Jay Spearing in the center on his own, Bolton Wanderers scored 50 goals and conceded 46 for averages of 1.51 goals scored per game and and 1.39 conceded per game.
Then, there's Medo himself. The midfielder has not had much of a chance to start matches without Jay Spearing at his side but he has played in a few matches on his own. In five matches with just Medo in the center of the park, Bolton Wanderers have won one, lost one, and drawn three. They have scored nine goals and conceded eight for averages of 1.8 goals scored and 1.6 goals against per game, respectively. In Medo's five games, Bolton Wanderers have taken six points for an average of 1.2 points per game.
Perhaps the biggest question to the disparity in the points per game that Bolton Wanderers earn with just Jay Spearing in the center (1.48), just Medo Kamara (1.2), and the pair (1) is that their play styles are far too similar to be effective together. Both players are destroyer-type midfielders. The enforcers, if you will. They operate in the middle third of the field, moving to the edge of each penalty area when necessary but rarely stepping inside. Their job is to win the ball in the center of the park and start the next attack by getting the ball to the wings or the attacking midfielder. Their passing rates are among the best on the team (Jay Spearing has completed 87.1% this season to lead the team compared to Medo's 79.7%) but this is because their passes are largely lateral or reverse, rather than going forward.
Against Blackburn, this is what got both Jay Spearing & Medo Kamara as well as Bolton Wanderers in trouble. Their passing on the day was largely superb with Spearing completing 90% of his attempts and Medo completing 89%. In fact, both figures were above their season averages. This is due to their sideways passing being very good on the day. The issues happened with attempts going forward. Medo and Spearing simply could not carve out passes to advance the play and lost the ball in the midfield with their opponents intercepting the attempts before they reached their targets.
The two players like going forward themselves with Kamara fancying a long-range effort in particular but rarely do their chances lead to an actual goal. More often than not, their shots come from 20-30 yards out and more often than not, they end up high, wide, or a combination of the two.
It seems that what Bolton are really missing is someone that can possess the ball. They're missing a Mark Davies or a Stu Holden that can carry the ball forward and make an intelligent pass on the edge of the area rather than trying the incisive ball from the halfway line.
The Medo Kamara & Jay Spearing midfield partnership is still young and has plenty of room to grow but at the moment, it is not helping Bolton Wanderers.