Barnsley came to the Reebok having lost their last 4 matches, only managing to score in 1 of those. They sat just above the relegation zone. If Bolton expect to go anywhere positive this season, these are the types of games they need to start winning, and they need to start winning them soon. Unfortunately today was not to be that day, as after long spells of dominance, Bolton were unable to seal what should've been a win.
The Wanderers started in a 4-2-3-1, but this time with some slightly different personnel. Captain Kevin Davies sat up top, a position he is very comfortable with but hasn't been occupying much of late. Jacob Butterfield, David Ngog, and Chris Eagles made up the offensive 3, which was a fairly interesting move from Dougie Freedman. This left Mark Davies and Jay Spearing to shore up the midfield at the back, but in the end, I don't think this role suited Mark Davies very well. The back four was made up of Sam Ricketts, Zat Knight, Matt Mills, and Stephen Warnock, a combination that seemed to work well.
Bolton were hanging on to the game by a thread before their goal came, being thoroughly outplayed by the visitors. With the exception of a few chances from Kevin Davies and Chris Eagles inside the first 5 minutes, the opening exchanges went the way of the Reds. Craig Davies, who was one of 3 Davies' on the field, caused Bogdan quite a bit of trouble, as much of the Barnsley play either went through him or ended with him.
In the 11th minute C Davies took a shot just outside the box, after Bolton gave the ball away, forcing Adam Bogdan into a save. Just 4 minutes later, the same man tested the crossbar (which held) with a header. In the 21st minute, Bogdan was called into action again, this time by Matt Done who sent a stinging shot in from 30 yards out.
However, in the 24th minute Bolton managed to turn things around, and what combination of players could it be other than Eagles and Super Kevin Davies? Eagles found the skipper with a cross, and SKD only needed one touch to tee himself up, and then volleyed it home. The goal effectively turned the tables on the match, leading to a convincing spell of Bolton dominance.
Sam Ricketts, who had several good attacks, presumably enabled by the lack of width in the midfield, had a shot from 20 yards out which forced Luke Steele into a diving save. Just a minute later, Eagles takes advantage of a lazy Barnsley defense and weaved his way into the box, once again forcing Steele into a save. In the 33rd minute, Stephen Warnock had to come off with an injury, and was replaced with Tyrone Mears, moving Ricketts to the left, which quieted his attacks somewhat.
Bolton had a golden chance to go 2 goals to the good just before halftime. SKD was held by Scott Wiseman, unfortunately, instead of playing advantage, the referee called play back giving the free kick. David Ngog was clear on goal, and had the ref allowed play to continue, surely would've scored. New boy Jacob Butterfield took the freekick, and while Ngog managed to head the ball on target, it didn't give Steele too much trouble. Bolton went into the half the better side, and one goal ahead.
There were no substitutions at halftime, and at first Bolton seemed to pick up where they had left off. In the 52nd minute, Eagles tried a rather spectacular scissor kick, but it was well saved by Steele. Just a minute later, Mavies had another go, this time from the edge of the box, which was once again saved by Barnsley's keeper. However, a series of substitutions from both sides around the 58th minute mark once again turned the tides, this time in Barnsley's favour. Jacob Butterfield came off for Keith Andrews, an effectively defensive substitution, and for Barnsley's part, the fabulously named Reuben Noble-Lazarus replaced Jim O'Brien.
In the 65th minute, Craig Davies brought his side level with a low shot that went in off the post. In fairness to Bogdan, the shot did look to be going out, and it doesn't seem like he could have done much about that goal. While Barnsley didn't exactly boss the match after that, Bolton no longer looked the obviously better side. Bogdan was forced into action several more times by Marcus Tudgay and Noble-Lazarus, but the only Bolton chances were sent directly at Steele.
This is the sort of match that is acceptable once. Dougie Freedman gets one disappointing draw to a poor side when in a crucial position. But this is the sort of game that a club with ambitions of promotion needs to win. The Championship table is still quite close and fluid, but it is settling all the time, and Bolton are quickly falling into mid-table mediocrity. Hopefully the Men in White can take their lessons from this, train hard, and do better, as Bolton has a week to prepare for their next match against Brighton.