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Down to the defense: how reliable are Bolton's back four?

There's been a lot of talk this preseason about how Bolton's defense would fend against opposition. Can we draw any conclusions from the first match of the new season?

Chris Brunskill

Maybe it was the happiness that football was finally back or maybe it's the truth, but the Bolton Wanderers' defense wasn't that horrific against Burnley F.C. this past Saturday.

Say what you want, but the (own) goal aside, Wanderers were somewhat stable given the circumstances. As a defensive unit, it's not that we're missing some pivotal piece (at least not one that can be easily acquired by the end of the month) but instead it's that we haven't been able to find a rhythm yet after so much rotating this preseason. As the season goes on, there are kinks and creases that Dougie Freedman can iron out as the players are conditioned more.

A slight problem I've seen with the defense is that they leave Adam Bogdan exposed way too much for anyone's liking. While normally I think Bogdan is very stable, he seemed a bit shaky during this game, which is to be expected since it was the first. Early on he took his eye off what seemed to be an easy ball and while he recovered just in time, he did drop it before handling the ball steadily. While I hate to admit it, I think maybe the only reason Bogdan is exposed so much is because David Wheater and Zat Knight are slowing us down. I'd trust Bogdan enough, but the thing is there's never anyone around that's quick enough to fall back and help when the time comes. And, frankly, when someone is quick enough to make it back there to help, everything seems to become a jumbled mess-one that ends up with us conceding a goal that's been deflected off our own player (a la Wheater).

It's not that I think Wheater and Knight are bad players; the exact opposite in fact. But at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 respectively, anyone would expect them to be a little slow. We need someone fast and nimble (most likely someone who's small) who can pick up the pace of the whole defense. There's no reason that the full backs should have to cover the central defenders like they did at Burnley. If the plan is to stick with Wheater and Knight in the middle, I would vote to have them less mobilized and use strength instead of speed to make a wall in front of Bogdan while Alex Baptiste and Marc Tierney played slightly in front of them, wider; then again, this would mean they need to be fast enough to cover the whole width of the pitch. Whatever Dougie decides to do though, we need better communication between the back four and Bogdan.

And worst comes to worst, although many people don't want to hear it, Tim Ream could flourish in his new position after a little bit of stability. The key to success for this though, is to sub him when we're winning (comfortably) so that he isn't thrown into the lion's den where one mistake can cost the team a win and cost him his confidence and chances.

Burnley had a slight edge in both possession and corners that made it evident Bolton's defense was pressured (and struggling) throughout most of the match. With the way our defense is playing right now, we can't afford to be pressured because it's how we make easy mistakes that we can't afford and I don't peg us as fit enough to score after we've conceded. Playing Burnley showed that while we look to be the team to score first, none of our players can do it individually. If If anything, we got lucky because Burnley were incapable of finishing on more than one occasion, but we can't build a contending defense, let alone a team, on luck alone.