Phil Parkinson caught Bolton Wanderers fans off guard on Saturday, by including two surprise players on the teamsheet for the game against Fleetwood. Firstly, Jem Karacan was named on the bench, with his transfer only being confirmed after being named in the matchday squad.
Then, there was the return of Wanderers captain Darren Pratley, last seen leaving the Macron pitch on a stretcher on the opening day of the season seven months ago. It was a great shock to see Pratley. The skipper put in a worthy performance, playing eighty minutes as Wanderers stormed to a 4-2 victory against the Cod Army.
It was only back in January when news broke that Darren Pratley wouldn't be seen again this season.
Pratley's return to the side couldn't have come at a better time. Initially, Pratley was scheduled to return to the side at the start of the year before another operation on his leg. If Pratley had returned then, I feel as if the skipper would have struggled to break back into the starting line-up. As Jonny wrote in a piece at the end of last year , Wanderers were firing on all cylinders in December, with Parky's 4-2-3-1 working expertly.
Three months later and with a switch to a 3-5-2 formation, Pratley's return is perfectly timed. With Jay Spearing out (hopefully not for too long), Bolton could do with a box-to-box type of player like Pratley to make the formation work. Just look at the Sheffield United game for an example. With Jay Spearing suspended, Wanderers were constantly left open in midfield and were duly punished. Pratley, despite being a divisive figure in his near six years at Bolton, has shown to be the type of player with boundless amounts of energy. A player who doesn't mind mopping up and doing the dirty work if needed.
A player like Pratley offers another dynamic to other midfielders in Wanderers' squad.
Darren Pratley also has something to prove, not only to himself but to the Wanderers faithful. As was the situation with players like David Wheater and Gary Madine, Pratley deserves the chance to put to bed the demons of last season.
It's only been eighteen months since I wrote a piece stating how I felt Darren Pratley wasn't the right choice to be Wanderers' captain (which you can read here). Now, I think Pratley deserves the chance to show he can be the perfect leader on the pitch.
Last season was a complete mess. Deservedly, Pratley had earned a new three year deal after his performances during Neil Lennon's first couple months in charge. Rejuvenated under the then new manager, Pratley was scoring goals for fun and was arguably showing the best form of his Wanderers career.
Maybe it was a mixture of trying too hard to recapture his form from late 2014 as well as the burden of the captaincy and the new deal, but last season was one to forget for Pratley.
Now, he has the chance to show he can be the player to get Wanderers promoted.
A rare survivor of the Premier League days, Pratley has over 150 appearances to his name in a Wanderers shirt. It's the longest spell at one club in his career. You wouldn't think it, but Darren Pratley has now spent more time with The Trotters than players like Stelios and Chungy ever did.
With eleven games to go, Darren Pratley can be the player to grab the team by the scruff of the neck and lead them to glory.
Welcome back, Prats.