Bolton came in to today's Lancashire derby twentieth in the table, their promotion push reduced to a relegation battle. Manager Dougie Freedman appreciated the seriousness of the situation and made several changes to his side in personnel and formation. Most notably, Tim Ream was dropped to the bench. This had to happen, Bolton has been poor when he has played. The other change in the team was a surprise. Josh Vela, who has started the last couple matches and looked good doing it, was also on the bench this week.
That was the who, but there was also a big how. Vela was replaced by a winger, new signing Steve De Ridder. This moved Chris Eagles into the center of the attacking midfield, along with Darren Pratley, and left young Jay Spearing with a lot of ground to cover as Bolton's sole holding midfielder.
Not much happened in the first twenty minutes or so of the match. Burnley created a couple half chances, but it was a fairly boring affair early on. When things finally sprang to life at the half hour mark it was Ream's replacement, debutante Craig Dawson, who was at the center of the action. He had a good header off a Jay Spearing corner kick, it was off target, but not by much, and would prove to foreshadow what was to come.
Dawson had a second header a few moments later, this one was on target, but blocked at the near post. Dawson was a handful at set pieces all day, which was nice to see, and harkened back to the old days for the Wanderers, who have not really been a threat from dead ball situations for quite some time.
The Trotters came into the match after this point, and were in control of proceedings when the halftime whistle blew. The primary danger man was De Ridder, who provided pace and trickery down the right wing, although he was never able to convert it into a clear chance.
It was ten minutes into the second half when it all went wrong. Burnley swung in a corner which Dean Marney headed back across goal. Bogdan was late to react, as was the defender, and David Edgar put away a pretty easy header.
Dougie Freedman knew he needed a result today and responded quickly, if not exactly in the manner that his supporters wanted. David Ngog came on for De Ridder. This was a bit surprising, as the on-loan winger had been playing very well. There was a smattering of boos around the Reebok. To give Freedman the benefit of the doubt, De Ridder has just arrived at Bolton and was not playing a lot at Southhampton, so this may have been a fitness issue.
The second sub was Craig Davies for Marvin Sordell. The crowd booed lustily, not at all happy to see Bolton's in-form goal-scorer taken off so early. The most interesting aspect of this is how quickly the Reebok crowd has warmed to Sordell. A month ago they were booing when he came on, now they boo when he is taken off.
Bolton's response to the goal was brilliant. They almost immediately woke up and started playing football. They dominated possession, started winning all the 50/50 balls, and even created a few chances. Eventually Ngog flicked on a forward ball to Chung-Yong Lee wide on the left. Lee cut inside and swung a cross towards the penalty spot. Craig Davies got on the end of it with a diving header that went in off the underside of the crossbar. The finish was a little lucky, but it didn't matter to the fans in the Reebok, who had their equalizer and were hungry for more.
It only took a few minutes for them to get it. Marcos Alonso took a free kick from about thirty yards out and it was a beauty. The ball dipped and dived towards the lower left hand corner and it was a stretching hand by the Burnley keeper with an assist from the post that kept Wanderers from taking the lead. It was only a temporary reprieve. Bolton continued to press from the throw-in, and the ball bounced around for a bit before falling to Jay Spearing outside the box. Spearing had run miles and done a hell of a job defensively, so who could blame him for taking a chance at glory. His shot was not going to be on target but it headed directly towards David Ngog, who used a deft touch to redirect into the far corner and give his side the lead.
Burnley created a chance or two late, but Bolton held possession well and saw the match out. It's a good three points, but this will need to become the norm if Wanderers are to dig themselves out of the hole in which they currently reside.