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Boltons soft centre; what’s the answer?

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Can’t defend, can’t score, hoof ball are the complaints but the elephant in the room is central midfield.

Queens Park Rangers v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship
Henry giving Bolton a battering...
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Back in 2007, Sammy Lee had made a right flipping mess of his dozen summer signings. Braaten, remember him? Everytime he bent over to sort his laces or shin pads out, his arse would block out the stand opposite. He looked good on YouTube but by Christ he was crap in a Bolton shirt. But I digress. Most of the dirty dozen would follow the hapless Lee out the door within a year, as Lees successor, Gary Megson, got rid.

However, Lee’s twelfth and last signing was central defender Andy O’Brien. Brought in as a last minute replacement for the impressive Abdoulaye Faye, who had followed Big Sam to Newcastle, O’Brien turned out to be a team saviour for that season. The headlines would focus on how Megson later used the Anelka transfer windfall, with a £15m splurge on Cahill, Taylor and Steinsson, to successfully keep Bolton up. However, it was thanks to the unheralded O’Brien, that Megson had something to build from when the new signings came in.

Fast forward ten years and a similar story is unfolding. Parky’s summer signings have 4-4-2 written all over them. Three fullbacks, three wingers and two strikers made up most of the new faces this summer. The spanner in the works though was central midfield. Parky has seemingly convinced himself that unless we have three central midfielders, opposing teams would overrun the middle of the park and some ridiculously unlikely nightmare scenario of 8 straight defeats without a goal in reply could happen. Imagine that...

We’ve tried 3-5-2, which worked in League One but has been a disaster of Trump sized proportions in the Championship, as we get absolutely massacred on the wings, especially as so many players are playing out of their preferred positions. Bolton need four at the back at this level, always.

We’ve played 4-5-1 but this leaves the admittedly impressive Madine isolated up front, laying off to team mates that never manage to get up in support. It also makes the cocaine level hoof ball addiction a craving our defenders find impossible to deny. Parky’s fave 4-2-3-1 seems to always collapse to 4-5-1. He’s tried 4-3-3 which seems to always collapse to 4-5-1. One up top means ALF doesn’t start or strikers become wingers.

A few factors have caught us out. The inability of Beevers and Karacan to cope so far in the Championship has been a surprise. More was expected from Burke and Cullen. These two weren’t first team greenhorns, such as, with all due respect, Antonee Robinson. They had come here as the last stage of development before starting a promising career in the Prem with the West Ham first team. Maybe too much for us to expect a Wilshere or Sturridge type impact but certainly not them being overwhelmed. For what it’s worth, I think Burke in particular will come good, the lad has talent but I digress again.

The thing is, Parky does have a point. Bolton haven’t been able to play with just two in the middle. Maybe if our twatting injury curse hadn’t removed Vela in the first game, things could’ve been different, but we are where we are and when we play two, our midfield has reflected Custers last stand.

Nevertheless, almost as an injury cover afterthought, along comes a 34 year old Karl Henry. The absolute bastard of a hard man, no nonsense, commanding midfielder we needed. Is he too old and past his best though? Going off the last few games, not for this season at least it seems. This is the man who got a good game out of Pratley at Aston Villa, so imagine what he can do when Vela returns from injury. Maybe Henry can even fire the disappointing Cullen and Karacan to deliver at expected levels? Who knows, but maybe, just maybe, Henry can enable Parky to put out a team that plays to its strengths and at least get us to a level where we are competitive relegation contenders. Parky’s cock is very definitely on the block now, but does he have the steel balls to rescue it and play just two in the middle? With a fully fit squad, bar the unlucky Derik, in my opinion Saturdays game against Sheffield Wednesday is the time to find out. So come on you whites, let’s get that bloody win.