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Dougie Freedman may have killed two birds with one Tim Ream-sized stone

Michael Steele

Tim Ream moved to Bolton Wanderers from Red Bull New York in January of 2012. His first match in a Bolton shirt came away at Millwall in the FA Cup and his first start was at home to Chelsea. In his third match out, Owen Coyle started the American defender in a defensive midfielder role against eventual champions Manchester City. In the 1.5 years that Tim Ream has been in a Bolton shirt, it has not come easy for him.

The defender has been (arguably a bit unfairly) maligned by the fanbase almost from the off. Ream has ability on the ball and that's where much of his composure lies. It is when the American has to fight for the ball that he is found out by the opposition. For all of his strengths with the ball at his feet, Tim Ream is a little too slight and relatively weak to be a central defender in the rough-and-tumble Championship and technically superior Premier League. On more than one occasion in the last year-and-a-half, Tim Ream was muscled off the ball and the play lead directly to an opposition goal.

During the 2012/13 campaign, Wanderers really struggled to find a central defensive pairing that actually worked until the arrival of Craig Dawson on loan. Owen Coyle and Dougie Freedman tried just about every possible combination with both Tim Ream and Matt Mills partnering Zat Knight as well as each other. Over the course of the season, Ream made 17 appearances, getting better with Dougie's team as it wore on. Unfortunately for Tim, football fans are known for being stubborn with their opinions (see: Tyrone Mears) and many refuse to see any positives in him, comparing Tim Ream to the likes of Gerald Cid.

For many, Tim Ream's situation echoes that of Bolton great Ivan Campo in that he's a central defender that really doesn't defend well centrally. In Campo's case, Sam Allardyce elected to move the defender into the center of midfield, playing a defensive role ahead of the back four. There, Campo flourished and won the favor of Bolton fans who still fondly remember him on and off the field to this day. A similar move away from central defense could be the right thing for Tim Ream.

The American is in a tough spot and has to really prove his worth this pre-season with another long campaign ahead of Bolton Wanderers and Dougie Freedman not pulling any punches about weak areas of his team. On Tuesday night, the Trotters made their way to Rotherham United's New York Stadium for their first friendly of the summer. The manager, very willing to experiment, put out a starting lineup of youngsters and fringe players with Tim Ream in a back four that consisted of Tyrone Mears, Cian Bolger, Matt Mills, and the American. Ream was going to play his first match at left back.

That position is one that Bolton have absolutely no depth in. Over the course of the summer, the former first choice in that position, Marcos Alonso, moved to Fiorentina. The backup, Sam Ricketts, dropped down a league to join Wolverhampton Wanderers. Bolton's first signing of the summer was former Norwich City fullback Marc Tierney, to fill that gap. Unfortunately for the Whites, there is, barring a youth team call-up, no cover on the left.

Despite Bolton's loss at Rotherham United, Tim Ream did well to stake his claim for a spot in future matchday squads. With the squad as a whole still generally rusty, having not played a match prior to the Rotherham game, Ream looked composed, for the most part, on the flank against League One opposition. Sure, the mistakes were still there including a nearly calamitous sliced clearance attempt that ended up just wide of Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan's post, but on the whole, it was a good day out for Tim.

No reasonable fan expects Tim Ream to be in a starting spot for Bolton Wanderers after his showings thus far in a Bolton shirt. Maybe a central defensive role for Tim Ream in England just wasn't meant to be. Dougie Freedman may have found the answer for Tim Ream and the left back issue all in one go with all parties coming out better for it.