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5 Things: Bolton v Middlesbrough

Another frustrating day at the office for Bolton Wanderers

Michael Steele

If I didn't find writing for Lion Of Vienna Suite so therapeutic, I'd consider giving all this up. Bloody Bolton Wanderersand bloody Dougie Freedman.

1) Zat Knight

Here we are again, Mr Knight.

I've written plenty about him over the last year or so, about how there surely MUST be a good player in there somewhere (perhaps). Wednesday's game against Middlesbrough summed up his Bolton Wanderers career in the space of 20 minutes.

Catastrophic, and I mean truly catastrophic errors caused our side to be 0-2 down at home in an important fixture in the early stages of the game.

It might be easier to break them down one by one:

Mistake One

I am putting 25% of the blame on Knight's rightback, Alex Baptiste. He was given a simple five yard pass by Jay Spearing or Mark Davies, I forget which, and he failed to control it which allowed Middlesbrough to attack. Our mate Zat then did the hard part and beat his man, before inexplicably turning and losing the ball to the same attacker that he had just beaten, who then passed to Carayol who scored with a fine shot beyond Andy Lonergan's reach.

Mistake Two

"Here's to you, Andy Lonergan

Bolton fans love you more than you will know

Oh oh oh oh"

So goes a version of the song sung by our fans. I'm going to come up with a new version:

"Here's to you, Andy Lonergan

Some Bolton fans love more you than you will know

Oh oh oh oh"

Catchy, isn't it? Lonergan takes 43% of the blame for this one. He had no need whatsoever to be out of his penalty area approaching Knight and the ball.

However, the remaining 57% of blame then falls back onto Knight. As the player with the ball in his possession he should have taken the initiative and forced Lonergan back, or he should have just hoofed the ball into touch. Anything would have been better than the course of action that he chose to make.

To give him credit he recovered well and was our best player yesterday for the remainder of the game, but the errors cost us points and it is absolutely not the first time.

Despite his improved performance as the game wore on, I cannot see it being enough for him to keep his place for the next vital league game at home to Nottingham Forest.

2) Four-Four-Bleedin'-Two

Our Douglas is known as the pragmatic type, and away from home that approach is perfectly understandable and correct.

However, I can't ever remember being in favour of a similar approach in our home games. Playing one striker is a negative way to face a game which despite Middlesbrough's form, was absolutely winnable.

Packing the midfield is a tactic that a lot of teams employ at home games in this day and age because of the simple fact that it is the only real way of countering the tactics of most teams. One lone striker with five in midfield is the preferred formation for the majority of teams that we have faced this season, and so to take that approach would appear sensible.

However, in a team such as ours who has struggled for a regular and consistent goalscorer since the John McGinlay days, we simply cannot afford to put all our eggs in one basket considering the paucity of options that we have in the striking departments:

* Jermaine Beckford is a poacher, not a target man.

* David Ngog couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo.

* Joe Mason is no more a target man than I am a fan of the BNP.

* Craig Davies is the most likely candidate for this job, but he is unavailable either through the manager's choice or through injury.

I would love Freedman to shed his caution and approach home games with the intention of winning the game through good old-fashioned trying to outscore the opposition.

We know we can't defend, so we may as well try that. With current personnel I don't think we even have the required solidity that a 4-5-1 (or derivative) should provide, and therefore a more attacking approach could even hide the fact that we're as poorly defended as Helm's Deep after that Uruk-Hai blew up the little gate thing about 90 minutes into The Two Towers.

3) The Two Sides of Bolton Wanderers Fans

I know I have been a boo-er in the past. A serial boo-er as well. I wasn't even saying Boo-urns. I gave Nicky Summerbee some right gip.

However, I was surprised by my own reaction to the Knight mistakes as mentioned in point 2, above.

I clapped him.

Now this could be in response to the morons who sit three rows behind me - one of whom booed every touch thatJay Spearing made. It may even be a sort of footballing maturity (unlikely). It could have even been sarcasm.

I wasn't surprised when Knight was picked out and had his every touch booed to the rafters following on from his first-half errors. We are not a patient fanbase, I even recall a prominent poster on a Bolton fan's forum having the title 'SAMHATER' back in the glory days of Sam Allardyce's tenure as manager!

I was, though, pleasantly surprised when Knight was on the ball a few minutes later and a ripple of applause went round the stadium.

I have no truck with boo-ers, you're free to express yourselves however you see fit, but I was encouraged by the support given to Knight and thought that it was an appropriate gesture from the other sections of the crowd and you never know, it may have been the spark that prompted Knight's otherwise-solid performance.

4) The Tinkerman Tinkereth

I was going to go into the reasons why he chose to tinker with the side to such an extent, particularly after we'd just scored three away at top-of-the-league Leicester, only to drop both goalscorers in a much more important home game against a side three places above us, but I think I've been depressing enough so far.

Actually, no, let's have a look at it.

Bolton Wanderers side vs Leicester City

Andy Lonergan
Alex Baptiste
Tim Ream
Medo Kamara (Joe Mason - 79' )
Zat Knight
Matt Mills
Rob Hall (Darren Pratley - 45' )
Jay Spearing
Jermaine Beckford
Andre Moritz (Mark Davies - 67')
Chung-Yong Lee

Bolton Wanderers side vs Middlesbrough

Andy Lonergan
Alex Baptiste
Tim Ream
Darren Pratley (Andre Moritz - 65' )
Zat Knight
Matt Mills
Chung-Yong Lee (Darren Ngog - 78' )
Jay Spearing
Joe Mason (Jermaine Beckford - 65' )
Mark Davies
Chris Eagles

The goalkeeper and back four remained the same throughout the two fixtures, though as usual Dougie Freedman chose to rotate the midfield and attack, a familiar criticism of him since his arrival from Crystal Palace 14 months ago.

Speaking to those around me at the Reebok Stadium on Wednesday, we all bemoaned the decision to drop Jermaine Beckford.

We've had strikers in the past who you could describe as 'confidence' players, and Beckford seems to me to be another prime example of that. Dougie backed him earlier in the season when he went through his lean spell - which is admirable, but I cannot understand why you would drop him a week after he scored a good goal against the top of the league.

Especially dropping him for Joe Mason, that's just bizarre.

Mason clearly has something about him, but the style of play that we are exhibiting at the moment is nowhere near being suitable for the lad. It seems strange to me that Dougie Freedman is persevering with the lad when we have a proper, actual goalscorer on the bench. Mason had two good chances against Middlesbrough and came nowhere near scoring either one. Frustrating.

5) Dougie's Future

As far as Freedman's future goes, I'd love to be in a position where I was in full support of the manager. I don't want Bolton Wanderers to be the sort of club constantly changing managers. I'd love us to go through another period of stability like we had with Big Sam.

I also understand the point of view of those fans who are steadfastly behind Freedman, for the reasons detailed above, but at the same time would these pro-Dougie fans be content with him hanging around if we went down?

Probably not. I don't think anyone wnats Bolton Wanderers to have a new manager every season, but where do you draw the line in terms of sticking with someone even when evidence of their suitability to the job diminishes week on week?

We all know that Bolton are up shit creek, financially speaking, so perhaps we can't afford to sack him, but at the same time when you look at what we are potentially facing, can we afford not to sack him?

Phil Gartside chose the right moment to fire Sammy Lee and Gary Megson, but in my opinion waited far too long to sack Owen Coyle, who should have lost his job when we suffered relegation on the final day of the season againstStoke City.

I fully understand that sacking Dougie Freedman would be a tough stretch, financially, but I still really believe that the present team is fully capable of promotion, and so therefore should they find themselves in better hands then why couldn't we have a run towards the Play Offs?

I fear that under Freedman that the current situation is the best that we can hope for. Someone sat behind me mentioned that we've become 'used' to underperforming players now, so much so that it has almost become accepted. New signings come and go, mainly on loan, without leaving much impression. What is the common factor? Is it the manager? The tactics? The organisation?

He's just lucky that we jibbed a late equaliser.

A point in those circumstances normally would be welcome, but we're closer to the relegation places than we were before the game started, and that is nothing to celebrate.