During the Cardiff City match last weekend, Bolton Wanderers went a goal up against the run of play. Sam Ricketts' bursting run into the box followed by a nicely squared ball found Chris Eagles crashing in at pace. The winger's goal was exactly what Bolton needed. Unfortunately, the one goal was not enough for the Trotters to seal three points as Craig Noone's free kick would settle the match at one point and one goal apiece.
At the start of the day, a point at the Champions was a good result for just about every Bolton Wanderers fan. Yet, as the game progressed, Bolton Wanderers had more than one chance to take a two goal lead and ultimately win the match. Cardiff City had those chances as well and had it not been for Adam Bogdan's heroics, the story would have been much different.
Bolton's two best chances of the match, apart from Chris Eagles' goal, came from Darren Pratley. One came on the half hour mark, the other came five minutes from time. Both had the chance to give Bolton two goals on the day and both were stopped by Cardiff City goalkeeper David Marshall.
The first was the result of Chris Eagles breaking down the left wing and playing a cross into the box for Darren Pratley. The ball was behind Marvin Sordell and found Pratley in the center of the area. The chance, a very good one, was stopped low by the goalkeeper. The second happened right at the death as a poor backpass from Ben Turner allowed Darren Pratley to try to run onto the ball with nothing but the goalkeeper between him and the back of the net. Pratley did well to reach the ball but unfortunately could not do much with it as Marshall came crashing in. A player with more pace perhaps could have done better but it was a good bit of hustle from Darren Pratley.
Darren Pratley was not a fan favorite for much of last season and was often derided for his lack of technical ability. While that second factor is still very much the same, the midfielder's work rate has won many of the supporters over. His tireless efforts and willingness to run himself into the ground has seen Pratley become a fan favorite at the Reebok. Unfortunately, what Darren Pratley provides in effort, he often lacks in ability with the ball at his feet. It was arguably that lack of technical poise that saw those two chances against Cardiff spurned.
Enter Stu Holden. The American central midfielder was recalled (a few days) early from his Sheffield Wednesday loan to help Bolton cope with the season-ending injuries to Keith Andrews and Jay Spearing. In his first game back in a Wanderers shirt, Stu was on the bench for Bolton. He came on as a substitute in second half added time, which was roughly 20 minutes too late to make any sort of impact.
In his time at Bolton Wanderers, Stu became known for many of the things that the fans love about Darren Pratley but with the added technical ability that Pratley lacks. Stu will run himself ragged, confidently go into tackles, play crucial passes, and know how to put a good shot on target.
There are still fitness concerns surrounding Stu. After all, he was out for over two years with injury. Upon his return, Stu played sparingly, picking up substitute minutes here and there before going 67 minutes against Peterborough. A few more games on the bench and Holden was off to Sheffield Wednesday. With the Owls, Stu managed four games in the stretch of a month, including two games in the space of four days. Holden started all four games, going a total of 250 minutes (an average of 62.5 minutes per game).
While we know that Holden is more than capable, the question is in what Dougie Freedman would like to do. With a game as huge as Blackpool on the horizon, would the manager really want to make such a drastic change in midfield? Darren Pratley has become a regular in the second half of this season and it is probably fair to say that he has earned his spot on in the team. Yet, if Stu Holden, Keith Andrews, and Josh Vela had been fit, would Pratley have been given as large a chance as he has had?
Everyone talks about fairytale endings and how excellent they are. Will we see one this weekend with Stuart Holden guiding Bolton into the playoffs? It's up to Dougie.