As the nPower Championship table stands, Bolton are in eighth place with 60 points from 41 matches. They are two points behind Brighton & Hove Albion in sixth place and three points behind fifth place Nottingham Forest. Forest's goal differential is plus eight, very similar to Bolton's plus seven. By the end of the season, there is a fair chance the Wanderers will hold the edge there. Unfortunately the same is not true of Brighton, not to mention seventh-placed Leicester City. Those clubs have margins of plus-sixteen and plus-twenty-two. That is too big a gap to make up, which means Bolton have to finish above those clubs on points alone.
Given recent form, the Trotters would seem to have a good chance to do that. Of the last five matches though, three are away from home, where performances have been sketchy at best. Included among those three is a massive showdown at Leicester City Tuesday April sixteenth. And that brings us back to the two critical needs for Bolton going into the stretch run; Goals and defensive commitment.
Bolton have kept clean sheets in four of their last six matches, all of those coming at the Reebok. On the other end, Bolton have conceded six goals in their last three away matches, losing two of those. Defending often starts at the front, especially away from home, and that brings us to Marvin Sordell and David Ngog, who appear to have become Dougie Freedman's first choice strikers. They both started in the debacle of a loss at Charlton, but it could be argued that they had much more to do with the brilliant first half than the disastrous second. Sordell scored that day, and Ngog played a big part in creating chances. In the second half, after Sam Ricketts got sent off, Sordell was sacrificed for another defender. Losing the pressure and hard work up front played a part in the Wanderers' collapse.
Ngog and Sordell both work very hard and play a two-way game, attacking and defending. Bolton has always demanded this of its strikers, and some have done it to better effect than others. There is one difference though between this team and squads. In past years, there were always several midfielders (and even defenders) chipping in with goals. But this time we will be without Mark Davies and Martin Petrov, and there is certainly no Stelios, or Kevin Nolan to score in the double digits. No, this time, Sordell and Ngog will have to be counted on for the goals.
The last time Dougie's men were held scoreless was about a month ago against Ipswich Town. David Ngog started that day, with Craig Davies partnering him. Kevin Davies came on for the final half hour, and Sordell got about three minutes at the end. Very few goal scoring opportunities were created. Freedman knew a change had to be made.
So we got an Ngog-Sordell partnership. Some people, myself included, figured way back in the summer that this would be the standard front line throughout most of the season. It's taken three managers and nine months, but we've finally got there. In the last three matches, which they have started together, each has scored a goal, and they have both played a role in creating chances for other players.
Why is this pairing a good fit? For a few reasons; First of all, Ngog is very good in the air, and Sordell uses his pace to play off of the Frenchman's won balls. Second, both are very mobile, making it harder for the defense to keep track of them. Third, both are good on the ball, and Bolton's overall passing looks better with the two of them moving the ball on quickly and keeping possession.
Sordell and Ngog each have seven goals on the season. So here is my prediction; Both will end up with double digits. And if they do, Bolton Wanderers will almost certainly finish in the top six and make the playoffs.