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Match Preview: Bolton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday

We have reached the halfway point of the season, and Bolton are nowhere near where they want to be in the table. We have seen some improvement under the new manager, but not nearly enough. The second half starts with a Boxing Day battle against Sheffield Wednesday, and the Whites need to pick up some points.

"Regreso al primero equipo.  I'm back in the first team."
"Regreso al primero equipo. I'm back in the first team."
Michael Regan

Merry Christmas everyone! Let's hope Dougie Freedman has some presents under the tree for all of us supporters of Bolton Wanderers Football Club. He can start by getting three points in a home match on Boxing Day.

That said, the biggest present would be for the players to keep a clean sheet, but if you think that is possible you probably still believe in Santa Claus. Let me help you out of your eggnog-induced haze with some basic information. Sheffield Wednesday are 21st, one spot above the drop zone. They have 21 points from 23 matches, and a goal difference of -15. Given that, you might think Bolton would win this home match, but last week's debacle against Peterborough United should dissuade you of that notion. Bolton dropped down to 16th in the table, with 29 points from 23 matches. The Trotters' goal difference is -1.

There will definitely be some personnel changes for this one, and not just because of the hiding on Saturday. Stephen Warnock has completed his loan deal and returned to Aston Villa. The left back didn't exactly go out on a high note, as the defense conceded five goals in his last match. Dougie does want to bring him back in January, and there is a pretty good chance that will happen. Also absent will be club captain Kevin Davies. He picked up his fifth yellow card on Saturday, and will serve a one-match ban. That has left a bit of a puzzle for Dougie regarding our forwards, but we will get back to that in moment.

By now everyone is familiar with Bolton's list of long term absentees:

Defender David Wheater (who is sorely missed) has a serious knee injury and is unlikely to contribute much this season.

Young Midfielder Josh Vela also has a serious knee injury, and is out until March at the earliest. Even if he does return to training this spring, he is unlikely to play more than a bit part in the rest of the season.

Wanderers' Great White Hope, USA midfielder Stu Holden, has returned to training and will feature in a reserve match as soon as one can be scheduled, but his first team return will probably happen in February.

Another midfielder, Mark Davies, had shoulder surgery and will be out a few months more, leaving his future contributions to this season in some doubt.

Matt Mills has a far less serious thigh injury and we should see him back in February.

Add to the list David Ngog. He picked up a slight knee injury in training last week. The young Frenchman has been impressive at times this campaign, but injuries and suspensions have not allowed him to settle into a run of form. Dougie need not rush him back into service though. Because, for the first time all season, Bolton's young strike tandem of Marvin Sordell and Benik Afobe came good, at least for a forty minute stretch on Saturday. Expect one (and possibly both) of those players to start against Wednesday.

So we know there will be at least two changes, and I suspect several more. As a response to Peterborough, Dougie could bring Tim Ream and (perish the thought) Joe Riley into defense. Chris Eagles' form has dipped recently, and it is getting harder and harder to justify leaving Martin Petrov out of the side. He only played ten minutes on Saturday, yet was still in the reckoning for Man of the Match.

Darren Pratley is also pushing for a place, as Jacob Butterfield's hold on the attacking central midfield position is tenuous at best.

All of that considered, it will be a very different Bolton side, and (ideally) a very different Bolton performance from what we saw last time out. Conceding five goals to the team sitting bottom of the table is Dougie Freedman's first "crisis" as Bolton manager, and how he deals with it will tell us a lot about Bolton's chances to pull themselves out of the morass and fight for a playoff spot this season.