If you were to go back in time to a year ago today, you would be more than a bit hard-pressed to find Bolton fans missing Darren Pratley's inclusion in the team. The previously much-maligned central midfielder has undergone a sort of revolution under Dougie Freedman to become an integral part of this Wanderers team.
Of the two goals that the Trotters have scored in the 2013/14 Championship season, Darren Pratley has both. He is also the second-most accurate passer in the side with a success rate of 82.3% (with Jay Spearing coming in on top with 86.5% completed). Those figures, coupled with Darren Pratley's willingness to more or less run himself into the ground has made him nearly indispensable for the Whites.
Bolton will be without Darren Pratley this weekend in an important match with Queens Park Rangers due to pair of yellow cards that the midfielder picked up against Nottingham Forest. As such, he will be suspended for the QPR match and Bolton will have to find someone else to take his spot, at least for the time being. It's a good thing that Dougie Freedman has some options in the center of the park that will (hopefully) be more than just a body on the field.
The choice that Dougie Freedman makes will really be based on what kind of identity he wants his team to have against QPR. The options are there for an attacking side as well as one that is more defensively-minded. This is based on the assumption that Jay Spearing and Medo Kamara will occupy two of the possible three central midfield spots. There are, of course, other considerations regarding who will play in place of Darren Pratley, including, but not limited, to fitness.
Against Nottingham Forest, Bolton were harmed by the lack of Chris Eagles and David Ngog, both missing out through injury/illness. Without that pair of players, the Trotters offered very little going forward and there seemed to be no real link between the midfielders and the lone striker. Both players are doubtful for the Queens Park Rangers clash but their involvement will likely be a gametime decision. Dougie spoke on that subject earlier, saying "Chris Eagles and David Ngog are both touch and go for the weekend. We'll see how they train tomorrow, then take it from there."
The odds that Andre Moritz starts are still slim with Freedman citing the player's fitness (or apparent lack thereof). In his prematch press conference, the manager said that "Andre Moritz is still working on his fitness. To throw him in would be a risk, so we may look at him for the Tranmere game."
Without those three, what choices do Bolton have?
Josh Vela, who has yet to make the bench for the first team this season (but has played for the reserves), could get the nod. The bench that Dougie put out at Forest (Andy Lonergan, Tyrone Mears, Tim Ream, Jermaine Beckford, Tom Eaves, Andre Moritz, Sanmi Odelusi) doesn't leave many options in terms of central midfielders either, especially if Bolton want to have anything on the attack. There are unproven players in the reserves like Jan Gregus but the odds of that happening against the likes of QPR are as marginal as they get.
What if it isn't a like-for-like swap at all? One of the major talking points thus far this season is Bolton's absolute lack of firepower. As mentioned earlier, Darren Pratley has scored both of the team's goals so far with none of the strikers contributing much of anything in that department. Perhaps they're not made to play as lone strikers, which may well be the case. The option is there for Wanderers to go out attacking at home and two strikers up top could be just what the doctor ordered. Two strikers up top might leave the defense more exposed than anyone would like but at some point, the Trotters need to score goals.
We will have to wait until an hour before kickoff to see the final decision but there are certainly options from which Dougie Freedman can choose from.