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Thin at the back: Wanderers lack options in defense

Chris Brunskill

Bolton's tough start to the season continues this weekend with what is a highly anticipated affair at Ewood Park to take on Blackburn Rovers. In the season's opening four games, Wanderers have already travelled away for one local derby and taken on three promotion candidates. In the season's opening four games, Bolton have taken just two points of a possible 12 and nerves among the fanbase are rising.

To make matters worse, it seems that the whole of the defense is struggling with injury at the moment and an already shaky back line may have some square pegs tossed into round holes.

In the midweek League Cup match at Tranmere Rovers, Dougie Freedman put out just about as makeshift a back four as possible given his sheer lack of options. It was Tyrone Mears on the right (which was as sensible an option as possible), David Wheater and Matt Mills in the center, and Alex Baptiste on the left. Bolton lost Wheater in the prematch warm-ups and Zat Knight was drafted in to take his spot. Baptiste's position was a bit of a headscratcher but the assumption quickly became that it was to give Marc Tierney a rest.

The changes were necessitated by injury and the need to keep players fit. There was little doubt that it would have been Tim Ream in Matt Mills' place had he been fit but the hamstring injury suffered against Queens Park Rangers left the American out. As for Tierney, it turns out he may have been injured in that match as well and thus forced to miss out.

The main issue is of course that the Trotters don't have options to fill the gaps, especially options that are proven. Depth at left back was always a worry going into the season and it was one that was not addressed in the transfer window to this point. Alex Baptiste looked wholly uncomfortable there against League One Tranmere and unless he's picked the craft up overnight, playing him there against Blackburn Rovers could prove costly. Tim Ream had played in the left back role on two occasions during pre-season but his fitness is still in question. The possibility of Tyrone Mears switching flanks and allowing Baptiste to return to the right exists but it's not exactly a comforting thought for fans.

In the center of the park, Dougie Freedman will be forced to go without the David Wheater & Zat Knight pairing for the first time in the league this season. Matt Mills made a case for himself against Tranmere Rovers and could partner Knight there for the second match straight.

Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester after the Tranmere loss, Dougie explained the issue:

"One or two injuries and suddenly we are a very light squad. I was hoping those injuries would come right at the end of the season but they haven't - they have all come right at the beginning.

"We are asking a lot of the younger players and some are not quite up to it yet.

"I am a big believer in giving them a chance but you saw at Tranmere that it was just too big an ask to do that in a Championship game."

A lot of questions remain to be answered but it could be a nervy weekend for Bolton fan.