Bolton Wanderers were hit with a massive injury blow on Thursday as it was revealed that young prodigy Zach Clough would miss the rest of the season, due to a dislocating his shoulder in the fiercely contested Tuesday night game against Reading.
It's no secret that Clough has been a revelation since Neil Lennon brought him into the first team, scoring six goals in only ten games, he's the most exciting thing to happen to Bolton Wanderers in many a year and many fans, my self included, have already conceded that the nineteen year old is probably our best player.
But now since we'll be without him for the remainder of this damned season, how will we cope with out his point winning goals, his drive and energy from deep and his exquisite creativity?
How will we cope without Zach Clough?
My initial reaction to that question was: "not very well". But after looking a bit deeper into our squad, I realised that it isn't all doom and gloom, and we do have quite a number of options to try and fill the void that Clough has left behind:
The most obvious and probable answer to the question is to use the Iceman, Eidur Gudjohnsen, in the space behind the lead striker. He proved ten-fold on Tuesday night that he still has ample creativity and the finishing instinct to replace Clough. His extremely intelligent passing may even lead to more chances for Le Fondre. The downside, however, is that we'd be foolish if we relied completely on Eidur, his best runs of form since his return to the club have been when he's been regularly rotated in and out of the starting XI. He plays best when he's refreshed and fit, with his touch and reactions deteriorating slightly when he's played too much football. At his age he can't be expected to play all the time, and if we want to get the best out of him we mustn't over play him.
Adam Le Fondre
Whilst Le Fondre's goal scoring form hasn't been the best since his arrival at the club on loan, one thing that can't be slated is his work rate, how much he troubles defenders and the amount of chances he creates. In just the last two games alone he's had a major part to play in two goals, due to his dogged determination. So I wouldn't be apposed to seeing Le Fondre drop back slightly and occupy the space in behind the striker. This, of course, would all have to depend on the fitness of resident target men Emile Heskey and Craig Davies.
It's easy to forget that Mark Davies is in the squad sometimes, I know I keep forgetting he's due to return from injury soon, and then I get all giddy when I remember. In the few games Davies played under Lennon until his latest, unfortunate injury, he looked like a revitalised player and found the spark that had seemingly vanished from his game - epitomised with his mazy goal against Brentford. We missed that spark of spontaneous creativity when he succumbed to injury and, funnily enough, it wasn't until Clough's emergence did we find it again. I have little doubt that Davies would fit quite comfortably in the space behind the striker, and would find his form again in no time. It just all depends on when he returns.
In January Neil Lennon made a couple of loan signings from Portugal, drafting in Simeon Slavchev and Rochinha, on loan from Sporting Club and Benfica, respectively. Up to now the most we've seen of either is a half-time keepy-up contest and distant tales of them looking good in behind closed door reserve games. Maybe it's time that they got an opportunity. Slavchev, being a more defensive minded, but box-to-box, player, could fit in in the middle alongside Neil Danns. Which, would in turn free up the excellent Barry Bannan to take on a more attacking role. I could also see latest loan recruit, Giles Coke, filling a similar role. Rochinha, on the other hand, is ready made for the position, as he himself is an attacking midfielder. There are questions on whether the pair will be able to cope with first team, Championship football, since they have very little experience, but there's no harm in at least trying.
Turn to Youth
This would be the very last resort, but Neil Lennon certainly isn't opposed to giving the youth a chance in the first team - if he feels they're up to it. So maybe he'll turn to the Development Squad once again, this time to fill the Clough shaped hole in our attack. A few players have left on loan recently, most notably Sanmi Odelusi, but the likes of Georg Illiev, Kaiyne Woolery, Chris Lester, Luke Woodland, Tom Walker and possibly even the seemingly finished Tom Eaves, are all still here and could be called upon to step up to the first team if required.
So, whilst Clough's injury is incredibly hard to take, at least there are plenty of options in the attacking third which, can take his place. Lets just hope they can replicate the whizz-kids incredible form.