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Have Bolton Wanderers progressed under Dougie Freedman?

Bryn Lennon

After nine games in charge this season (one less than Owen Coyle had before he was sacked), now is as good a time as any to take a look at Bolton Wanderers under Dougie Freedman. The former Crystal Palace manager was hired to help Bolton Wanderers move closer to promotion and while Bolton have moved up a few spots in the table, that isn't the most important measure.

The word "progress" has been thrown around a lot in regards to Dougie's Bolton Wanderers but "progress" in what terms? You can look at confidence, fitness, and playing style but with the information available to the average fan (and the average fan in the Championship at that) none of those measures are actually quantifiable. Instead, we're going to take a look at three key tangible metrics:

  1. Points per game
  2. Goals scored per game
  3. Goals conceded per game

As mentioned earlier, we won't be taking a look at league position because at the moment, this league is so tight that it simply is not that important. Before Saturday's win against Charlton, Bolton were actually one spot worse off in the table (in 18th place) than when Owen Coyle was sacked (in 17th place). The 2-0 against Charlton saw Bolton jump up to 13th place. At the moment, just five points separate the teams from 7th to 17th place.

Points per game

From 23 games this season, Bolton Wanderers have gathered 29 points. 13 of those games came before Dougie Freedman's hiring and in that stretch, Bolton took just 15 points or an average of 1.15 points per game, barely over drawing every single match. After Dougie took over (nine games ago), Bolton took a further four points and boosted that points per game average to 1.56. It's not the two-per-game target that Phil Gartside had mentioned at the start of the season but it's a step in the right direction.

The primary reason for this is that Bolton Wanderers are losing a lot less games. In those first 13, Bolton picked up five losses. In the nine games since Dougie's arrival? Just one.

Goals scored per game

Under Owen Coyle, Bolton really became known as a high-scoring side. The kind of team that would concede twice but would try to win it 3-2. Of course, Bolton conceded twice an awful lot but didn't manage to score three goals at all this season under Owen Coyle. This season's one win with three goals from Bolton came under Jimmy Phillips in his debut 3-2 win.

In the season's first 13 games, Bolton racked up 19 goals for an average of 1.46 goals per game. Under Dougie Freedman, this number has not changed much as Bolton have 13 goals from 9 games for an average of 1.44.

If that isn't the difference, then what is?

Goals conceded per game

Again, we move back to the team under Owen Coyle and while they were thought of as high-scoring, they were also a very leaky ship, widely considered as defensive pushovers. In 13 games, Bolton allowed 22 goals for an average of 1.69 per game. Bolton allowed two or more goals on nine separate occasions or 69% of the time. This has been an issue for the Trotters for quite some time, even when Gary Cahill was on Bolton's books

The one thing that's really changed under Dougie Freedman is the defense. In nine games, the Trotters have allowed just 10 goals, an average of 1.11 goals per game. They have allowed two goals (never more than that) on three separate occasions or 33.33% of the time.

Most importantly though, the team are beginning to keep clean sheets. With Owen Coyle managing the club, Bolton kept just one clean sheet (2-0 vs Derby County) between February 2, 2012 and the date of his sacking on October 9, 2012. With Dougie Freedman in charge, Bolton have kept two in the last nine games and have allowed just one goal four occasions.

Have Bolton progressed?

That's the big question, isn't it?

Below is the table of goals scored, allowed, points gained, their sums, and their averages split into the pre- and post-Dougie Freedman eras.

Match Points picked up Goals scored Goals allowed
Burnley 0 0 2
Derby 3 2 0
Nottingham Forest 1 2 2
Hull City 0 1 3
Watford 3 2 1
Birmingham City 0 1 2
Sheffield Wednesday 3 2 1
Crystal Palace 0 0 1
Leeds United 1 2 2
Millwall 0 1 2
Bristol City 3 3 2
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 2 2
Middlesbrough 0 1 2
Total Points Total goals scored Total goals conceded
15 19 22
Points per game Goals scored per game Goals conceded per game
1.153846154 1.461538462 1.692307692
Cardiff City 3 2 1
Leicester City 1 0 0
Blackpool 1 2 2
Barnsley 1 1 1
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 1 1
Blackburn 3 2 1
Ipswich 0 1 2
Huddersfield Town 1 2 2
Charlton 3 2 0
Total Points Total goals scored Total goals conceded
14 13 10
Points per game Goals scored per game Goals conceded per game
1.555555556 1.444444444 1.111111111

Bolton Wanderers have maintained their scoring rate, allowed less goals in, gained more points per game and kept more clean sheets. If that doesn't sound like progress, I'm not sure what does. The team has managed to increase most of the numbers that had to be increased while dropping the numbers that had to be dropped.

Of course, there is still some way to go but this is definitely progress in the appropriate direction. The fact of the matter is that Dougie Freedman's system is a brand new one for Bolton Wanderers. We've heard time and time again these last two months about the improvements in fitness and reinstitution of sports science. This isn't a team that Dougie built (he's only signed one player) and it will absolutely take time for them to come together and play in this new system. We are seeing the very positive beginnings of that now.