Bolton's Form - What Has Changed?

Ah told you ah got 'dis - Matthew Lewis

Occasional guest contributor Michael Murray takes a look at what has changed for Bolton Wanderers in recent weeks

Three wins in a row, eleven goals scored, only one conceded playing with two useless loan strikers, a central midfield pairing who can't play in the same team, The Rhythm at centre half and Adam Bogdan in goal. It shouldn't be possible but somehow Bolton Wanderers have managed it.

It has been a remarkable turnaround over the last couple of weeks with us going from looking like a team who would struggle to keep our heads above water to the frustration of why it has taken us so long to click this season, to start looking like the team we know we are capable of being.

The performance in the 2-0 win over Watford was efficient enough to see of a relatively poor team in a comfortable fashion. The manner of victory over the Banjo Pluckers was dominant and ruthless, from the first whistle to the last. They were lucky that we only took four chances that day. We could and probably should have scored six or seven that day and Gary Bowyer's men could have had no complaints whatsoever. It was also nice to get an aggregate victory over Blackburn Rovers for the season and the perfect way to avenge the horror show at Ewood Park back in August.

We then made the 50 mile journey across the Pennines into Bandit country, a place where Barbarians are usually on a quest of pillage and plunder, or Yorkshire as it is more commonly known and to Elland Road for a high stakes game; well, I had a whole five pounds riding on the result with Graham, the Leeds United fan at work. I was intrigued to see whether Dougie Freedman would continue with the same formation which had proven a success in the previous two home games or whether, as we were away from home, he would revert back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that we've witnessed for the majority of the season.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised when, standing on the Elland Road concourse awaiting the team news that we were to play an unchanged starting eleven. My enthusiastic optimism, which had won over in the battle of head versus heart in giving them lot thirty four of my hard earned British pounds to go to their decrepit stadium, immediately increased dramatically.

My analysis of the performance is this. In the first half we restricted them to a couple of half chances, happy to allow them possession in the middle and pressing them when they went to go forward whilst playing on the counter. Whilst we didn't offer too much going forward ourselves, we we're comfortable without ever being under any real sustained pressure.

As the fourth official was just about to signal for the compulsory added minute, Neil Danns played a ball over the top which found the player currently posing as Joe Mason onside, in acres of space and a clear run on Jack Butland in the Leeds goal. With the confidence of a seasoned pro, he took the ball out of his feet, opened himself an angle and coolly slotted the ball across the keeper into the bottom corner. It was the sort of finish we haven't really witnessed from a Bolton Wanderers player since the days of Nicolas Anelka.

I openly admit that I was less than enthusiastic when I heard we were interested in re-signing Joe Mason in January, especially after his uninspiring performances in his initial loan spell. I did however tweet (and I'm willing to dig through my twitter account to find it should anyone want to contest me on this) that I would be interested in seeing how he would play alongside a target man, thinking that it would be Craig Davies who had started to reappear around the first team picture at the time.

I'm more than happy that Joe Mason is proving me wrong. Three goals in three games is a fantastic return for any striker and it could and probably should have been more. He only had the one clear chance against Leeds, but made it count. Against Watford and Blackburn, he missed easier opportunities than the ones he actually took. As his confidence grows, I can see him becoming more and more prolific. I certainly wouldn't be averse to him returning for a full season next season helping to try and fire us into a play-off spot.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the game at Elland Road. We came out after half time with purpose, desire and intensity, attributes which have been somewhat lacking for the most part of the season. We also did something else we have struggled to do for the majority of the year, we capitalised when we were in the ascendency and took some chances.

The two deliveries from Jay Spearing for Lukas Jutkiewicz and Zat Knight were sumptuous. I'm still struggling to comprehend that The Rhythm scored. It also prompted one of my favourite chants of the season from the eleven hundred strong travelling support, eclipsing @LeytherMatt's effort of ‘Are You Bolton in disguise' aimed at Blackburn after Jay Spearing had scored. ‘How shit must you be, Zat Knight scored a goal'; simple, beautiful.

When Mark Davies scored with the bicep of God, the Lids Yewnatid fans were marching off together so when Andre Moritz crashed in the fifth, Elland Road was all but empty. Unfortunately for the back five, Matt Smith scored an injury time consolation but a five one win was thoroughly deserved. I'm still led to believe that Ross McCormack has still not been sighted since 2.58 on Saturday and that his whereabouts in believed to be in Zat Knight's pocket, along with Jordan Rhodes.

A couple of things I believe have contributed to this mini resurgence we are currently encountering;

1) An outlet up top; the Juke. That crap Pole we signed from Middlesbrough reserves, the one born in Southampton with the terrible goal record, has been phenomenal. He is strong, athletic, can play with his back to goal, is good in the air and can play with the ball at his feet. He has been bullying defences, causing all sorts of problems and he works bloody hard. He is also able to hold the ball up, something Joe Mason, Jermaine Beckford and David Ngog were all unable to do. It has meant that we can clear the ball forward, knowing that it is not going to come straight back. This gives the rest of the team chance to push out and play higher up the pitch.

2) Mark Davies. Back fully fit and playing in almost a free role. He is controlling games, setting the tempo, dictating play and is wonderful to watch with the ball at his feet. Having a workhorse like Neil Danns as a foil for him is also contributing. Danns will run all day, isn't scared to put a tackle in and also has a touch of quality with the ball at his feet. These two are working opposition midfielders into the ground which means that with fifteen to twenty minutes left, we have been able to unleash Lee and Moritz, two who will hurt opponents when they have time and space on the ball.

3) The back four, that rag tag bunch of centre halves look organised. Since David Wheater has returned, he has looked a completely different player to the one who opened the season at Burnley. For whatever reason he didn't feature for four to five months but he is back looking like the player we know he is capable of being. He also seems to be the one who organises the back line in a similar way to Craig Dawson during the second half of last season.

With the returns of Marc Tierney and Jermaine Beckford imminent, we are going into a tough run of fixtures with a squad which looks strong, confident and capable. The game at Pride Park against Derby County will really tell us whether we have turned a corner this season, albeit too late but with the confidence of the results and performances from the last three outings, there is no reason why we can't get ourselves another good result.

As usual, if you have an issue with what I've said, feel free to contact me on twitter @mervynthepanda

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