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Dougie Freedman, Bolton Wanderers, and the myth of the slow start

Charlie Crowhurst

Dougie Freedman has now been in charge of Bolton Wanderers for 17 matches. It's fair to say that results haven't exactly gone the way that fans had hoped for and expected, especially after the six match (and seven of nine) unbeaten run that Dougie started his Trotters tenure with. Bolton have lost just five of those 17 games but have also only managed five wins in that stretch and seven draws, or in other words: 22 of a possible 51 points.

One of the trademarks of Dougie Freedman's Bolton has been a tendency to go down a goal in matches only to fight back for it late. In fact, Bolton Wanderers have scored goals in the final quarter of the match (67 minutes, 30 seconds and on) in eight of those 17 matches, scoring a total of 12 goals in those final 22.5 minutes under Dougie. That means that 47% of matches had a goal scored in the final quarter of the game and 50% of all the goals Bolton scored in those 17 matches came in the final 22.5 minutes of the game. The Burnley match was just another example of this.

Bolton started the match without being to really grasp a foothold in the final third and were thus unable to break through Burnley's back line. The Trotters were made to pay for this and conceded from a corner ten minutes after the halftime break, going down a goal. Dougie Freedman's pair of substitutions proved a good move and both scored, one on 66 minutes and the other in the 81st, guiding Bolton to a win.

Due to the way Wanderers went about getting the points, the fans became increasingly vocal on various social media platforms. The cries had overarching similarities by bemoaning the "negativity" of Dougie Freedman's style and Bolton's penchant for apparent slow starts. It begged a bit of investigation.

In the past, Bolton Wanderers dropping points from winning positions has been a major point of contention. The team has dropped a massive 24 points from winning positions this season (12 under Owen Coyle & Jimmy Phillips, 12 under Dougie Freedman). That figure, staggering enough as it is on its own, is made worse only by the fact that it's the second-highest total in the whole of the Football League as evidenced in the chart below (click the photo for a larger version):

Despite that, Bolton Wanderers also have the second-highest total for points (18) regained from losing positions, but that is often not mentioned:

You may be asking: "Why is that points dropped total so high?" Well, because Bolton Wanderers tend to score early goals in matches.

Of those 17 matches under Dougie Freedman's tenure, Bolton Wanderers have managed first half goals in eight. The club has scored a total of nine first half goals (a pair coming against Birmingham City). The problem for Bolton Wanderers is that those early goals are in no way indicative of the final result. From those eight matches with first half goals, Bolton have taken just nine points of a possible 24 with two wins, three draws, and three losses.

Just to break it down a bit more: three games have had goals in the first 20 minutes with the earliest goals being Kevin Davies in the 2nd minute away to Blackburn Rovers and Mark Davies at home to Ipswich Town. The latest first half goal came in stoppage time just before the break with Keith Andrews scoring the first of Bolton's four in the loss to Peterborough United.

You see, the issue is not that Bolton Wanderers are not scoring goals early, it's that they fail to hold on to leads. However, that will be another discussion in the near future.