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Weighing the Mark Davies-less options for Bolton Wanderers

Stu Forster

Mark Davies is set to miss a massive ten months for Bolton Wanderers. As a result, the Trotters will be forced to plug the mazy-run-making hole in their midfield. In a rare twist of events though, Bolton actually have some options this time around. The sick bay is relatively empty and in terms of midfielders, it's only Keith Andrews still out.

Formation will be a defining factor in Dougie Freedman's decision on what to do with the midfield. Against Hull City and Peterborough, Bolton came out in a 4-4-2 (or a 4-1-2-1-2 if you want to get nitpicky). In both cases, it was Marvi Sordell and David Ngog up front and a midfield four of Jay Spearing, Darren Pratley, Chung-Yong Lee, and Mark Davies. Spearing played deep, Darren Pratley was kicked out onto the right a bit, Chungy was on the left, and Davies was the most advanced, playing right behind the forwards. It was a very attacking setup.

For our purposes here, there is an assumption that Jay Spearing will be the midfield enforcer while Darren Pratley will be playing dead-center, as has become the norm over the last few games.

Should Dougie elect to go with a similar formation at Oakwell against Barnsely, there are a few options for Bolton. The man that replaced Mark Davies on Tuesday could be in line for his first league start in nearly two years. Stu Holden played 65 minutes against the Posh midweek and, despite looking a bit off the pace for the first five or so many, showed that he could compete in this division. Holden wasn't scared of entering into a challenge and played more than a few good passes, trying to set up a second goal for Bolton. Holden wouldn't play as advanced a role as Davies did but his versatility in both attack and defense will prove a vital asset.

Josh Vela, a younger and less experienced player than Holden, would fit into largely the same. In the matches he played against Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Everton, and Watford, he showed his willingness to tackle and passing quality. While looking mostly good in those games, Dougie made it clear that Vela was not ready. Ahead of the Hull City match, Freedman said:

"I played him in the FA Cup and for a few games because we were a bit short in that area but to be honest he shouldn't have been in that early.

"He has come out and he's a bit tired and low in training, and I have spoken to him this week.

So, don't expect to see much more of Vela just yet.

The most like-for-like option that the Trotters have is arguably in Chris Eagles. The winger still leads the whole of the Championship in assists (with 12 on the year) despite not registering a single one since mid-december. However, Eagles' fall from grace has come quickly. He has not had much luck on the wings of late but has had a bit of joy in a more central role. Eagles' game is one that is largely free-flowing in that he is able to play across the field in attacking roles. He has seen time in that role ahead of the central midfielders but behind the striker, most notably in the win against Burnley. Eagles needs confidence and maybe Barnsley is the match for him to do that in.

In fact, that's something that Dougie Freedman has confirmed he'll explore:

There is another option, of course. One that doesn't use anyone from Bolton's already large squad. The rumor mill is churning and there is a belief that Bolton Wanderers will dip into the loan transfer market in order to plug the gap.

Either way, Dougie will have some decisions to make.