1) Adam Bogdan
As we all know, over the past 18 months Adam Bogdan has, whilst being the first choice goalkeeper at Bolton Wanderers, been to blame for the outbreak of grey hairs as seen on the terraces. His performances since the departure of Jussi Jaaskelainen under the previous manager Owen Coyle have, it must be said, hardly inspired confidence amongst the supporters.
However, the game against Reading this Saturday was different - Bogdan made what I believe to be his finest display of goalkeeping since he arrived at the club. He made three or four absolute world-class saves, most notably from Alex Pearce with a back-post header and from point-blank range as Reading forward Adam Le Fondre had a tap-in from a cross. These saves were Jaaskelainen-esque in their brilliance. Without these saves then Bolton Wanderers could have suffered a harsh but damaging 3-1 home defeat.
Bogdan has deservedly suffered criticism in the past for his distribution and command of his area, and I thought that both of these were much improved on Saturday. With encouragement from the impressive Marc Tierney, he would look to start counter-attacks with well-placed throws, as well as showing firm and solid handling as and when required from crosses into his area. The fact that we now appear to have competent full-backs will no doubt aid the goalkeeper as the number of crosses into the area that we conceded against Reading was significantly less than last season.
I have, since the game, been trying to think as to whether I believe in Adam Bogdan. Over the Summer I have read the chatter about how Andy Lonergan is a far better goalkeeper than the Hungarian - and I'm sorry, but I cannot agree. I think Bogdan is superior to Lonergan at this time and therefore I am happy to go along with Dougie Freedman's choice. That isn't to say that I wouldn't have Jussi Jaaskelainen back in a flash, but with performances like these then I think that Adam Bogdan has shown that he has it within him to be our long-term number one. I hope that he can continue this form.
In my time watching Bolton Wanderers and football in general I have seen some really poor referees. Names like Barry Knight, Mike Riley, Graham Poll, Phil Dowd and Howard Webb spring to mind. I shall from now on be adding Carl Boyeson to that list.
Boyeson, a 43 year old East Yorkshireman, made his first (and I expect last) appearance at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday. Unfortunately his card was marked in the first half when he showed an alarming propensity to halt the flow of the game with niggly decisions which infuriated the home crowd and both sets of players.
As the second half progressed he correctly awarded Reading a penalty when David Wheater handled from an attacking header inside the Bolton Wanderers penalty area - no arguments there. However, Boyeson began to then exert his negative influence on the game. Bolton Wanderers would go on to have not one but TWO identical shouts for penalties waved away by the referee and his assistant who ran the line by the East Stand. I have no problems with the penalty that he awarded to Reading, but when the same incident happens TWICE at the other end with different decisions being awarded each time then the consistency of the referee comes into question.
Boyeson would also make baffling decisions when it came to the antics of Reading midfielder Royston Drenthe. Drenthe whilst undoubtedly one of the most talented players on the pitch also chose the occasion to show off his theatrical skills, shamelessly chucking himself to the floor on several occasions in the first half, before eventually being booked in the second half following a dribble past Alex Baptiste. Drenthe had beaten his man, but still chose to dive and was correctly booked for his troubles. However, the referee would then go on to CHOOSE to disregard Drenthe doing the exact same thing ten minutes later when he hurdled a challenge from Zat Knight with a double pivot which would have earned him a 9.9 at the Olympics. It happened right in front of him and yet he didn't act. This cowardice was typical of Boyeson's performance.
3) What to do with Wheater?
Whilst his defensive partner Zat Knight had a reasonably solid game, for the large part keeping Reading's Nick Blackman quiet, David Wheater was not so impressive. I wasn't keeping count, but by my reckoning he lost a large proportion of his aerial battles against the Reading attack.
Even though I was convinced at the time that it was Marc Tierney who gave away the penalty, subsequent replays showed that Wheater was the one with his arm flailing up in the air. His struggles when dealing with the ball in the air was a problem throughout the game. For a big man he was less than convincing against Reading and it can only be the lack of faith that Dougie Freedman has in both Matt Mills and Tim Ream that is keeping Wheater in the side.
His rustiness in the Burnley game last week was concerning, though I wrote this off as a blip. However, there were signs against Reading that the serious knee injury that he suffered in May 2012 has robbed him of what little pace he once possessed. This is not going to change any time soon.
I would be hoping that Dougie Freedman is working behind the scenes to bring in reinforcements in this position. We all know that he is fixed with Zat Knight as being a 100% lock to start every week, but the form of Mills, Ream and Wheater inspires me with no confidence whatsoever. Popular opinion leads to Craig Dawson's name being the preferred candidate, and of course this would go down extremely well with the fanbase.
The frankly bizarre signing of Uruguayan Diego Lugano by West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke should leave Dawson with a further block to the first team spot that he so craves, and that should give Freedman an opportunity to strike. Another loan deal would appear to suit everyone - cash-strapped Bolton Wanderers can bring in a quality player and WBA can give an asset much needed experience and exposure to the wider market.
4) Jermaine Beckford
What to do with Jermaine! I felt his frustration on Saturday. He was playing as the lone front-man with David Ngog playing as a "10" behind him offering support and a link between the midfield and the forward line, however more often than not Beckford was left isolated and having to feed off scraps. Ngog was very impressive in the first half, making incisive runs and causing havoc in the Reading defence, however not once to my recollection did he feed his striker with the sort of supply that he so desperately needs.
Wanderers still appeared to be labouring under the illusion that Kevin Davies was still playing, as the defenders thought it was wise strategy to lump long balls up to Beckford, who was well marshalled by Reading's giant centre-half pairing of Pearce and Morrison. When Beckford did receive the ball he was ably supported by David Ngog and Darren Pratley who did his utmost to support from midfield, but that is not his game and that is not why we brought him to the club.
Jermaine Beckford is a striker. As a footballer he is not fit to lace Ngog's boots, but as a striker he is far superior to his colleague. There was one particular moment that left me shaking my head as Ngog ran past two or three Reading defenders, whilst Beckford made an intelligent cross-run which took him away from his marker - instead of passing to his teammate, Ngog chose to continue and soon lost the ball. I was watching Beckford's body language and reaction to this loss of possession and I can assure you he was not happy. We need to learn how to play with Beckford and play to his strengths, otherwise he is going to be a passenger, and an unhappy one to boot.
I think that if we are determined to play hoofball up to the striker, then unfortunately we will be left with no option but to play Craig Davies or Tom Eaves, and that is something that I am really hoping doesn't happen. They might well be able to play a better aerial game than Jermaine Beckford, but their inclusion would severely hamper our build-up play and make us all the more predictable.
I think Beckford can be a success at Bolton Wanderers but we are going to have to adapt. Andre Moritz came on and showed the willingness to attack and to thread a pass which should aid Beckford in his integration into the side, but he is going to have to get fitter before he can start, and at the moment it is tough to see where he would come in. I hope that when Chris Eagles and Mark Davies return to fitness that they can provide the midfield guile to help Beckford who can thrive on the supply that was so absent on Saturday.
5) Supporter Apathy
It was with great surprise and a little sadness when after the game I discovered that the attendance on Saturday was a meager 15,551. From my vantage point in the East Stand I can be sure that Reading brought no more than 750, which in itself is terrible and shows just what a tinpot ‘meh' club they are, but for Bolton Wanderers to then make up the remaining 14,800 is nothing short of embarrassing.
By our standards, we ended last season on fire, and have had a largely positive Summer break. We have invested in the team, most notably with the re-signing of Jay Spearing, as well as having kept the majority of the side that did so well in the latter stages of the 2012/13 season. Therefore I came to Saturday's game expecting a 20,000+ attendance.
Though to my knowledge the club have yet to reveal how many season tickets we have sold, I would anticipate that approximately 10,000 season ticket holders were in attendance against Reading, meaning that the rest of the crowd were "walk-ups", buying tickets on the day. The sight of so many empty seats at the first home game was a source of real disappointment to me.
We are starting the season off as one of the favourites for promotion, and the lads will need all the backing they can get if promotion is to be achieved. Therefore I hope that the poor attendance on Saturday can be put down to it being smack bang in the middle of the school holidays, perhaps with some parents and families being away and therefore unable to attend the game.
I would hope for a better crowd when we entertain Queen's Park Rangers on 24th August in our next home game, but considering that match is on the telly then I am not confident.