There has been a bit of a debate going on over the past week or two, on this website and dozens of others. This debate happens every year, in every sport. The debate is over one simple question. Does preseason mean anything?
For me, the answer is usually no. Players are working on their fitness. Managers are experimenting with their tactics. Youngsters are trying to impress the coaching staff. Someone might be recovering from an injury, or learning a new position, or building a new partnership. Those things are all true.
However, there is another undeniable truth in the world of the Bolton Wanderers. The club can't defend. Not as a unit, not as individuals. Last week, I wrote an immediate reaction to our first preseason friendly in which I heavily criticized the defending. I was greeted with derision. Many of the above rationalizations were presented. One of my favorites: Tim Ream looked promising at left back. That little bit of optimism lasted about 13 minutes into Tuesday's match. That was when a winger named David Amoo easily ran past Ream down the left side and clipped a cross into the box. Andy Lonergan blocked the first shot, but Bolton's defenders haven't chased down loose balls like that since the days of Bruno N'Gotty and Tal Ben Haim, so of course Carlisle were given a second bite at the apple. And that was all they needed. One goal. In the rain. The away supporters might as well have started the long journey home.
Despite his auspicious start, Ream did play the entire 90 minutes, and he played all of them at left back. His counterpart on the right, Tyrone Mears, also played 90 minutes. If one is making the argument that preseason friendlies are for fitness purposes only, then who is building up to 90 minutes becomes an important factor in determining the manager's tactical leanings as we head into the season. Mat Mills also played 90 minutes. Zat Knight and David Wheater split duties evenly as his partner. So, as crap as our defenders may be at football, at least they are able to run for 90 minutes.
Bolton's attackers fared slightly better, creating some decent chances without scoring. Rob Hall has been the most impressive performer for Bolton this preseason, although that is not saying much. Once again he and Eagles looked threatening on the wings. That said, most eyes at the offensive end of the pitch were on three season debuts. Tom Eaves, recovering from a foot injury, made his first appearance from the start. At this point you would have to say the (relative) youngster is fifth in line amongst Bolton strikers, and will probably be loaned out again.
Chung-Yong Lee also made his first showing of the preseason. Several international matches over the summer have left him to make a late start. He ran around a lot in his 30 minutes of action. The return to form we saw late last season was not evident from the South Korean.
And finally, mercifully, in the 62nd minute, two months of speculation and false starts finally came to an end. Jermaine Beckford appeared in a Wanderers shirt. Alas, he didn't do much. No one was going to do too much on the waterlogged pitch, so we will withhold judgement on Beckford. The defenders on the other hand, deserve to be judged, and judged harshly.