Bolton Wanderers supporters will have to shake off their New Year's hangovers and get to the Reebok in full voice at 3 o'clock on Wednesday. I am sick and tired of the booing and criticism. Most of the players in the championship have the raw talent to be in the top flight, but lack the consistency. Quite often the clubs that are riding high in December are on the outside looking in come playoff time. We can still go on a good run of form and get promoted this season. Just get behind the lads!
That said, how behind the lads the crowd is on Wednesday will be heavily influenced by the team Dougie Freedman puts out against Middlesbrough FC. The gaffer made six changes on Sunday from the team that beat Barnsley a few days before. Two of those were enforced, but that is still a lot of adjustments with just three days preparation. And he had already made three changes for the Barnsley match from our previous encounter! So we know he likes to rotate. We know the defense is in disarray. And we know several players cannot continue to play a full 90 minutes when the fixtures are bunched this tightly.
Boro are in a similar situation to Bolton. The years of Premiership glory and European adventures have long faded, replaced by mid-table mediocrity in the English second division. They will visit the Reebok sat in 15th place, with 29 points from 23 matches. They have scored 36 goals while allowing 31. But the truth is, Boro's season has not actually been that good. Clubs in the Championship are so evenly matched that even a few weeks of good form, especially during the festive season, can catapult a team up the table. The Teesiders have won 3 matches on the trot, outscoring their opponents 6-0 in doing so.
Bolton's defenders will have their hands full with Albert Adomah, who leads his club with 9 goals in the league this season. But who will those defenders be? Right now Bolton have a severe shortage of fit full backs. Marc Tierney is still recovering from injury. Joe Riley is perpetually recovering from injury. Tyrone Mears is perpetually recovering from personality conflict with the manager. It's got so bad that youngster Hayden White was on the bench Sunday for the first time with the senior squad. He's not even listed as a Wanderers player on most websites.
Alex Baptiste is the only healthy, recognized senior fullback currently under consideration by Dougie Freedman. And make no mistake, this is Freedman's fault. Youngsters Andy Kellett and Oscar Threlkeld have also been on the Bolton substitute's bench this season as a result of a lack of defensive cover. Kevin McNaughton performed admirably, but Freedman let his loan expire last week. I like Tim Ream. He has been impressive in the centre of defense for a good chunk of this season, but he is no more than an emergency option at left back. And when that move has to be made, it actually weakens the squad at three positions. Zat Knight replaces Ream at central defender, which is a downgrade, and Matt Mills gets exposed in a way that he seldom is when partnered with Ream. If it were me picking the team, I would play Ream and Mills in the middle, Baptiste at left back, and Tyrone Mears at right back.
We could see some changes in attack as well. Mark Davies should return to the starting XI, as fitness concerns have left he and Andre Moritz essentially taking turns in the playmaker role. Chris Eagles should also come back, as his ankle injury has finally cleared up, and Rob Hall was poor against Leicester City.
I don't think we will see another six changes on Wednesday, but we could see three or four. I just hope for Dougie's sake, and ours, they are the right three or four. I have to admit, I am cautiously optimistic about this match, but terrified that I feel that way.