Something that we've noticed over the last few weeks and months is that when Bolton fans get a hold of an opinion, they tend to stick with it no matter what. This has been on display numerous times but perhaps none more prevalent than the idea that Bolton's defense is awful. Guess what, guys? It really isn't that bad.
Yes, there is no doubting Bolton's inability to keep clean sheets. Wanderers have only managed to keep four clean sheets on the season but three of those have come since the arrival of Dougie Freedman, who has now had 18 games to his name. The other thing that hasn't come for Bolton is the wins. In those 18 games, the Trotters have picked up all three points on just five occasions. In that span, Bolton have won five, drawn eight, and lost five. That said, it must be made clear that the reason for Bolton picking up wins is not because the defense is shipping goals.
For this, we'll take a look at Bolton's last eight games: Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham City, Leeds United, Millwall, Crystal Palace, Watford, Burnley, and Nottingham Forest. In those eight games, Bolton have allowed a total of just eight goals and only conceded more than one goal on a single occasion: Watford away. In the same stretch, Bolton have had to deal with three of the Championship's top four goalscorers in Glenn Murray, Charlie Austin, and Matej Vydra. The whites shut out both Murray and Austin while a fortunate mistake allowed Matej Vydra a one-on-one with Adam Bogdan to score.
Taking a look at the Championship's top four teams and the number of goals they have allowed in that same eight game stretch:
Cardiff City: 3 goals allowed, average of 0.375 goals per game
Hull City: 6 goals allowed, average of 0.75 goals per game
Watford: 9 goals allowed, average of 1.125 goals per game
Crystal Palace: 8 goals allowed, average of 1 goal per game
Leicester City: 3 goals allowed, average of 0.375 per game
Middlesbrough: 15 goals allowed, average of 1.875 goals per game
On the back of that defensive form, Bolton Wanderers are on par or better than half of the teams battling for promotion.
Where the Trotters are struggling is in the department of scoring goals. In those last eight games, Bolton have scored more than one goal on just two occasions: 3-1 at home against Birmingham City and 2-1 at home against Burnley. They won both of those games. Wanderers have been held scoreless on three occasions: Sheffield Wednesday home, Leeds United away, and Crystal Palace away. They lost two of those matches and drew one.
In that eight game span, Bolton have managed just eight goals (average of one per game) with five of those coming from two games. Naturally, if you're not scoring, you can't win games.
The solution? 4-4-2.
We've seen in recent weeks the positive effect that Dougie Freedman's switch from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 in the latter stages of matches has had. Against Burnley and Nottingham Forest, the switch meant that Bolton went from being completely toothless in attack to scoring goals. While the defense isn't rock-solid yet, it no longer is the leaky ship it was for the whole of last season and much of the current one. What goes to show that the formation switch is doable is that even after Bolton have switched formations late in the last pair of matches to more attacking forms, Bolton have not conceded a goal.
The 4-5-1 is a very practical formation that allows for added padding on the defensive end but what it adds at the back, it tends to take away from any attacking impetus. Bolton Wanderers have four forwards who have all, in recent weeks, proven that they can do the job up front. Unfortunately, what hurts them is having to do the job on their own. Kevin Davies and Marvin Sordell have both suffered for it while David Ngog and Craig Davies have proven a lethal tandem.