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5 Things We Learned: Bolton v Birmingham

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The season finale....

Paul Thomas

Sigh.

The third campaign on the run to end with a 2-2 draw saw Bolton Wanderers again throw away a comfortable lead against a team struggling in the division. Dougie Freedman's men toiled against Birmingham City and ultimately allowed the opposition to come back into the game and earn their survival.

So what can we take from the game?

1) Jermaine Beckford

Jermaine-beckford-thumbs-4x3201-1021324_478x359_medium

Freedman's summer signing, despite being our top scorer this season, has been a bag of shite.

The game against Birmingham summed up everything that is wrong with Bolton Wanderers at the moment. This season has been a shambles, and Jermaine Beckford's performance had all the hallmarks of this current malaise.

I lost count of the number of times that Beckford gave up on the ball in promising positions. Three times in the first half the former Everton striker ran on to quality passes and three times he chose not to put in the hard graft and instead he'd feel an imaginary touch from the defender and he'd give up the chase.

This lack of grit and graft is a troubling trait in the player, and to be honest looking at his career statistics it all contributes to what in hindsight appears to be another baffling decision from Dougie Freedman to sign him.

This is Beckford's sixth Championship campaign in a near-on ten year professional football career - he is yet to score more than 9 goals in any season. His return of 24 goals in in 96 games spread across time spent at Leeds United, Leicester City and Huddersfield Town is Ngog-esque, and cannot be considered good enough for a club like ours where goals are at such a premium.

Season

Club

Division

League

Apps

Goals

2005-06

Leeds United

Championship

5

0

2006-07

5

0

2011-12

Leicester City

Championship

39

9

2012-13

4

0

2012-13

Huddersfield Town

21

8

2013-14

Bolton Wanderers

Championship

22

6

He is not good enough.

Only three of his eight league goals this season have been decisive. The remaining five have come either in games already won, or in defeats. We need our main striker to be the man, and Jermaine isn't the man.

He was getting serious grief from the crowd given his lack of application against Birmingham City, and seemed to pre-empt any negative reaction once his number came up towards the end of the game - though to me it seemed that he was saying goodbye.

I would not be against this. I can forgive a lack of ability, but I cannot abide a lack of effort.

2) Come to the Reebok Stadium, Play How You Like - We Insist

The lad who sits behind me came up with a wonderfully elegant phrase on Saturday "at home we're the bum boys of the Championship".

Not especially PC, but fairly apt.

Of our 23 home games this season, we have won just six, drawing 11 and losing another 6. This lack of fight and spirit to claim the win is symptomatic of the makeup of the squad that Dougie Freedman is putting together at the club. We did far better away from home this year, winning eight, but at home we seem to have a real problem in claiming all three points.

We threw away the win against Birmingham through a familiar manner of play. We were cruising at 2-0, comfortable in our lead and with numerous chances to win the game which we failed to take through sloppy finishing and some good saves from their keeper. Then we lose a simple goal from a cross to the giant Nikola Zigic and all of a sudden we absolutely shit our pants and retreat deeper than a deep thing which then invites the opposition onto us and we inevitably concede.

The only way they would score was from a cross into the box, so why did our manager not spot this and at least try and stop the ball at source rather than concentrating on dealing with the ball when it arrived in the box?

We should be forcing our own game upon the opposition, but instead we sit back and we allow ourselves to be dominated. This may point to a lack of organisation from the management team or this may point to a lack of characters within the squad, but it's a worrying mentality and is not something that we can afford to have when we are a struggling team  - and make no mistake, we are a struggling team.

By the end of the game Birmingham's desire was greater than ours.

I would like to give the away fans a shout here as well - what a great sight to behold. Fair play to them.

3) Rob Hall

Have we ever had a more lightweight player? Not sure.

Hall cut a frustrating and frustrated player against Birmingham City. He struggled on the ball and was poor from dead ball situations.

He has made 20 appearances in the league this season, scoring just the once - can you remember a serious impact that he has made in a game? I'm struggling for anything.

The manager clearly rates him, but I'm not seeing any progress from the lad. He needs exposure to games in order to progress but a the moment he is not producing the goods on the pitch to warrant a place in the first team on a regular basis. He has the tricky jinking manner of a winger with none of the end product.

Birmingham City for example had two traditional wingers on display in former Rangers man Chris Burke and the on-loan Liverpool man Jordon Ibe.

Both ran Bolton ragged and were extremely impressive. I would not be against a summer transfer move for either player, especially if, as expected, Chris Eagles and Chung Yong Lee leave the club.

4) Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett

Oscar Threlkeld was handed his home debut by Dougie Freedman and enjoyed a solid if unspectacular time. He was barely troubled by Birmingham City who chose to focus all their attention to Burke and Ibe down the right wing.

He had little time and little chance to get up the field to show how he can assist the attack, but this wasn't the right game for that.

I would be a little disappointed, if I was he, that the crosses for both Birmingham goals came from down his side, but I'm not attributing any blame to the lad for that as he was given short shrift in support from his more experienced colleagues both on the wing and in the centre.

Not stopping the cross is only part of the problem - dealing with the aftermath is the responsibility of the centre halves, not the full back.

I would be comfortable starting the season with Threlkeld as our first choice right back. I don't think signing a new one is especially a priority - I believe that our need for strikers is greater. It's time we gave youth a chance and a position like right back is, in my opinion, one that we could 'get away' with sticking an academy graduate into.

Andy Kellett came on for the disapppointing Jermaine Beckford with just four minutes gone, but in that four minutes he showed more attacking prowess and guile than Rob Hall and Chung Yong Lee showed all day. CYL had a better game than Hall but Kellett blew them away with his pace on the counter.

I'd love to see him given more game time next season.

5) Positivity: The Future Is Bright

I've been accused of being a negative sod, and I can see why folk would throw that around but I'm honestly not! I wish I could be more positive about Bolton Wanderers at the moment but it's hard work.

Still, I think the future is not necessarily as gloomy as the immediate past.

Andy Kellett again came on and looked like he's got it in him to be a good Championship player. He lit up the Reebok Stadium with his pace and attacking movement and only the incompetence of his teammates stopped him coming away from the game with at least two assists (though assists don't matter).

Dougie Freedman has made plenty of mistakes since arriving at Bolton Wanderers, but it appears that his appointing of former Palace and Bolton midfielder Jamie Fullarton as club Development Coach has been a masterstroke.

Not known as a club with a particularly successful academy system, it appears that the work of Fullarton along with the investment that was insisted upon by his predecessor Owen Coyle is starting to bear fruit. Freedman arrived at the club with a reputation for giving youth a chance, and the last ten games has seen at least two academy graduates in the matchday squad with Oscar Threlkeld, Hayden White, Andy Kellett, Tom Youngs and Chris Lester all earning time on the pitch, with Bulgarian striker Georg Iliev being unlucky not to receive some game time of his own.

The production line appears to be a promising part of the club at present. The Under 21 squad finished a creditable 13th (of 22) in the Premier League table just a single point a single place behind the well regarded and well funded Tottenham Hotspur Under 21 side.

Wanderers U21s also finished a mere three points and two places behind Everton, another successful and well regarded youth setup. Fullarton's squad ended their season a point above both Arsenal and Aston Villa, and also above West Brom, Stoke and Newcastle.

Only Leicester, of clubs whose senior team was not in the Premier League, finished higher than Fullarton's lads in sixth place. The best Under 21 clubs in the country are, unsurprisingly those of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United whose own U21 sides contain players brought in at great expense on wages that would make your eyes water.

So the future is bright - we just need to give the kids a chance. I hope the manager does.

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So it's with a mere hint of positivity that I draw this season's 'Five Things' to a close and I hope that you've enjoyed my witterings on the topics since August. I intend on reviewing the whole season in a five-parter starting next week.

If you agree with any of the points above, or disagree, then feel free to let us know using the comments box below, or you can follow me on twitter (or block me, up to you) here.

See you next season.