Bolton Wanderers' biggest match of the season was their final match of the season. The final match of the league season against Blackpool. Luckily this game took place at the Reebok, where Bolton were nearly unbeatable under Dougie Freedman. But the manager had some decisions to make. His club has quality and depth at several positions. And two formations (4-4-2 and 4-5-1) had been successful in recent weeks. What would he do?
Certainly Dougie weighed the options against each other. The first decision was formation. The risk of the 4-4-2 (less cover in the center of the park) versus the reward (two strikers in attack). The risk of the 4-5-1 (too defensive) versus the reward (more protection for the back four). But there were two other wild cards. Blackpool's offensive prowess, particularly on the wings, and the end of Craig Dawson's loan deal.
A change in the back four for the final match is really tough. Unfortunately, Wanderers are all too familiar, as the same thing happened last season after David Wheater's injury. Dougie had to decide whether to recall Wheater, who had played less than an hour's worth of first team football this season, or bring in Tim Ream, who hadn't played since February, and was quite awful before that.
So what does all of this tell us? Basically, being a manager is hard. For every big decision (Giving Rob Hall his debut in the most important match of the season), there are several little decisions (playing a 4-2-3-1, moving Chris Eagles into the center, allowing Craig Dawson's loan to expire a week before the end of the season, not starting Stu Holden) that lead up to it. Playing it safe doesn't get you fired. Taking risks gets managers fired. Taking risks also brings you glory. Dougie Freedman went for glory. Dougie Freedman took the risk that he thought would get Bolton into the playoffs. Instead he got burnt. He is not, however, going to get fired. Stepping back and looking at the big picture, it is easy to see that Freedman did an extraordinary job during his time at the Reebok. The club are in very good shape going into next season.
As for the risk, I don't mind it too much. I like going for glory. I think Dougie took the wrong risk (starting Holden was the play), but he had the guts to take the risk. I always like aggression. Don't cede the high ground to your opponent, make them take it from you. Next season, I bet Dougie Freedman will take a lot of risks. And I will also bet that Bolton don't cede the high ground.