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5 Things We Learned: Bolton Wanderers v Watford

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A win! A bloody home win!

Scott Heavey

That was a thoroughly nice Saturday. A win, and a deserved win for Bolton Wanderers which ever so slightly eases the pressure on both the squad and under-fire manager Dougie Freedman.

With that in mind, what can we take from the game?

1) Let's Not Get Carried Away

Whilst it was pleasing to finally get three points under our belt, Watford FC were extremely poor.

They lined up in a way that suited us, with their complete lack of width allowing our own complete lack of width to go relatively unnoticed. Only once or twice in the first half of the game did the away side make efforts to attack our fullbacks. Mark Davies and Neil Danns are attacking players and often left Tim Ream and Alex Baptiste defensively exposed, but for some reason Watford and their manager failed to capitalise on this potential opening for their side.

Our performance was sufficient to get the three points, though not anywhere near perfect. I shall write further on the performance of a couple of important players such as Lukas Jutkiewicz and Joe Mason, and a win was vital considering the wins gained by the bottom three in the division, but let's not get carried away. We are still in a dire situation and things are still incredibly worrying given our difficulties in grabbing maximum points this season. As mentioned previously, this would have been a terrible game to lose considering that six of the bottom eight teams in the division managed to win their games, whilst the two that didn't lost to teams around them.

This is only our third home victory of the season, which is a pathetic return. Our remaining home games include:

Bolton v Blackburn Sat 1 Mar
Bolton v Brighton Sat 15 Mar
Bolton v Blackpool Tue 25 Mar
Bolton v Wigan Sat 29 Mar
Bolton v Barnsley Sat 12 Apr
Bolton v Leicester Tue 22 Apr
Bolton v Birmingham Sat 3 May


You have to hope that we can win five of those seven home games to drag ourselves into a safe position in the Championship. Current form suggests that we may struggle to do so, and I believe that is where our future will be decided. We know that we're terrible on the road - we've been terrible on the road for nigh on 20 years, and so the home games will be crucial. Looking at the list above there is nary a guaranteed win on the list. Blackburn are in form, Wigan are in form and Leicester will be hoping to wrap up the league title. You could perhaps point to Blackpool and Barnsley as the most obviously winnable games, but as we know in this league anyone can beat anyone apart from Leicester.

So whilst I enjoyed a night off being a moaning git on Saturday, I still think the realities of our situation are such that it might be wise for us to take a look at the league table and treat this victory as a plaster over the cut, rather than anything that will define our season.

Watford could well have been the perfect team to face given our current funk. They were a team lacking in drive and desire, as evidenced by their complete and utter lack of interest in chasing the game as the second half wore on. If we can do the double over someone, then how shit must they be? We have a combination of Adam Bogdan's reflexes and Troy Deeney's weak header to thank for keeping the game to 0-0 just before we scored our first goal of the game.

2) Lukas Jutkiewicz

How good was he?

Brought to the club on loan from Middlesbrough when their new manager, former Chelsea and Real Madrid assistant manager Aitor Karanka decided that he fancied playing Kei Kamara instead, his arrival was met with skepticism by the majority of the fanbase, me included, who had little other to go on than a poor goal return and the glee of the Boro fans to judge the Southampton-born frontman.

However, the performances of Jutkiewicz since his arrival have been encouraging, but I thought his overall play against Watford was nothing short of sensational. He was imperious as the lone front man. He won every header against the central defenders and brought players into the game with his build-up play.

I wrote on the old Twitter last night, under the influence of a couple of Brewdogs, I must confess, that his performance reminded me of my old favourite Kevin Davies, except I believe that Jutkiewicz has the 'feet' that Davies didn't. Whilst SKD was fantastic at bullying defenders and providing a target for some of our more agricultural play, with the ball at his feet he was often found lacking.

The work ethic of Jutkiewicz was something to admire as well. As the game wore on, and as his team began to tire, you could always rely on Jutkiewicz to be a target for a ball from the defence, and to run the Watford defence ragged with his upper-body strength enabling him to hold the ball up and provide a focal point to our play.

On what limited knowledge of the bloke, I have no idea whether he would be the type to convert his loan form into permanent play, should we sign him, but given the form of our most recent loan-to-buy Jay Spearing, perhaps we should just consider re-loaning Jutkiewicz until the end of time.

He earns the somewhat dubious accolade of being the first Bolton player to get me off my seat and applaud for his effort and determination for the cause in this entire. Long may it continue.

3) Joe Mason

What an enigma.

Mason, back on loan from Cardiff City for a second spell of the season, was thrust straight into the first team in place of Chris Eagles, who dropped to the bench. Played by manager Dougie Freedman in a supporting striker role just off the aforementioned Jutkiewicz, Mason had a frustrating day.

He should have scored twice in the first ten minutes, after being twice set up with delightful through-balls by the ever impressive Mark Davies (who every week proves that he is the polish on our particular turd), Mason showed the sort of nervousness in front of goal that had defined his previous time at Bolton Wanderers. Despite the disappointment of missing those two relatively simple chances, and to his credit, Mason continued to work hard and get himself into good positions.

When he was released for a third time, he made no mistake with an excellent finish beneath Krusty the Klown in the Watford goal.

As the second half progressed he faded out of the game - having had reserve team football since he left Bolton, it is perhaps understandable. He had another fantastic chance, his fourth one-on-one of the match, but again was found wanting when it came to the decisive finish, in what could have been a game to remember for the striker. In fact, thinking on, he could have had more - two good openings from near-post headers from Jay Spearing corners. He could have had six!

So overall a pleasing enough return for Joe Mason, but I would suggest that he needs to do a lot more to win over the support. We won, and he scored, which is fantastic, but missed chances could cost us in other games and we need our strikers to be clinical. He worked well with Jutkiewicz which is positive, although Dougie Freedman's seemingly inexplicable boner for Mason still requires some explanation and justification. It will be interesting to see what the manager does when top-scorer Jermaine Beckford returns to the side.

4) What is wrong with Medo?

Along with his central midfield partner Jay Spearing, Medo has been one of the disappointments of the season. Upon joining from Partizan Belgrade for £700,000 part way through last season, he was one of our star performers in the late-season run from the arse-end of the table to the brink of the Play Offs after final-day disappointment against Blackpool (still think that's your fault, Dougie).

However, this season has seen a completely different Medo. The player who came in and immediately showed that he had the experience and the quality to dominate this division - as you would expect from a player who has appeared in the Champions League - with snappy tackling and crisp, accurate passing.

The Medo of this 2013/14 Championship season appears to be suffering from a near--total lack of confidence. He goes missing when the ball is available, and the timing of his tackling has been questionable to say the least. One particular rash challenge in the first half almost provided Watford with the chance to score. The opposition only looked dangerous from set-pieces, and the decision by the midfielder to hack his man down on the edge of the box could have been disastrous.

I think he has Darren Pratley to thank for being able to see out the game - had Neil Danns remained on the bench as the game wore on then I would have expected Medo to be substituted, especially as he was carrying a booking - something which often blunts his performances.

5) Where do we go from here?

Another week of employment secured for the manager, and a chance for the fans to enjoy a relatively chilled Saturday night.

However, what happens next is absolutely crucial. Will Dougie continue to pluck his team selection out of his arse? The combination of Jutkiewicz and Mason simply MUST be allowed to continue and develop over the coming weeks. You would have to be a complete idiot to break that partnership, and I must confess that I don't have enough faith in the manager's sanity to expect him to leave the forward line un-tinkered-with. We have seen some terrific partnerships at the Reebok over the years, and whilst I'm not for one minute expecting Jutkiewicz and Mason to each those heady heights, but it clearly works, so Dougie don't you dare think about changing the attacking line-up.

The performance of Matt Mills and David Wheater also must remain in place. We all know that we are suffering from a lack of full-back options, with Tim Ream and Alex Baptiste struggling for form - there is only so long you can use the 'out of position' defence for the American, and so it must be a relief for Freedman to see the emergence of a relatively competent defensive partnership to compliment that of Jutkiewicz and Mason.

The manager's constant changing of the midfield make-up is a source of frustration in the stands, and comments about whether he actually knows his best midfield are perfectly valid. Mark Davies must play every single week without fail. As I mentioned above, he is the key to this team and for our chances of survival. He is a sheer joy to watch when he gets the ball, and appears to glide over the turf when in possession at a pace that some of our lads struggle to match when running at full tilt.

I must finish (I'm sure you're glad to hear that) with a down-note though. I was really disappointed to hear the manager come out after the game and say that he had been wanting to play two up top all season. Well Dougie, why didn't you? You've had the personnel, and the opportunity, so why didn't you? I also seem to remember him saying before now that playing two strikers was 'old-fashioned' - yet he seems to have changed his tune on that note, too. Similarly, the manager was quoted in saying that he didn't believe in the loan system - I'd be more inclined to believe him had we not loaned four million players this season.

He's a frustrating manager - I often wonder whether he has a plan, because his penchant for chopping and changing his line-up smacks of someone who is hoping to happen upon something that works. The constant u-turns and odd little quirks of selection (dropping Lee Chung Yong when in his best form for 18 months, for example), and the comments about 'educating' the fans don't stick well with me.

Oh and he keeps picking bloody Pratley. He's clearly insane.