After Saturday’s last gasp 2-1 defeat to Everton in the FA Cup there are plenty of positives for Bolton Wanderers to take into the remainder of their league campaign.
Bolton were certainly more than a match for a team hoping to be challenging for a Champions League spot come the end of the season. In the end it was a half cleared corner that cost Bolton the replay they deserved and as Dougie Freedman said post game, it is the small details that are holding Bolton back at the moment.
Similar lapses in concentration in recent league games at Leeds and at home to Millwall have resulted in penalties conceded and points dropped. However more recent back-to-back clean sheets against Sunderland, in the third round cup replay, and then at Crystal Palace are signs of progress.
Further reasons for Bolton fans to be optimistic for the remainder of the season include the return to fitness of several members of Freedman’s squad. Most noteworthy is fan favourite Stuart Holden, whose all-action displays were sorely missed as Bolton slipped out of the Premier League.
The reception he received as he entered the pitch as a late second half substitute was proof as to how popular he is with the Bolton fans. Another player who has suffered injury problems is Josh Vela. In my opinion he was outstanding in the middle of Bolton’s midfield until he was replaced by the Holden in the 81st minute. Up against Fellaini and Osman he more than held his own and looks to be the brightest prospect to come out of the Bolton youth academy since Kevin Nolan.
Looking at Dougie Freedman’s encouraging record of working with and improving younger players Vela looks to have a bright future at the Reebok Stadium. With David Wheater, Matt Mills and Mark Davies also due to return from injury and new signings Craigs Davies and Dawson adding further competition for places, the squad looks as strong as it has done for some time and should soon begin to climb the table.
In addition to squad members returning to fitness there has been encouraging signs of form from Marvin Sordell. Since signing from Watford on transfer deadline day last January the striker has had well documented troubles. However, when given an opportunity in the recent FA Cup games he has been excellent. The goal he scored on Saturday where he applied the finishing touch to a flowing team move was that of a confident striker.
Bolton have lacked a regular goal scorer so far this season with the favoured front pair of Kevin Davies and David Ngog only managing 10 goals between them. Hopefully Sordell can carry his FA Cup form into the upcoming league games. Also impressive in recent games has been Marcos Alonso and if the rumours are to be believed he has attracted the interest of Serie A team Fiorentina. Whether these much improved recent performances are to put himself in the ’shop window’ and secure a lucrative move when his contract expires in the summer remains to be seen!
With only a few days left before the January transfer window slams shut it would be good to see at least one more new signing to go with the arrivals of Davies and Dawson. Ideally that signing would be a winger to replace Martin Petrov and provide a different option from the often frustrating Chris Eagles. With Chung-Yong Lee also struggling to be able to play two games a week after his horrific leg break at the start of last season, another winger would be a welcome addition to the squad.
Optimistically Bolton could still claim a play off place this season as they currently sit 13 points adrift of sixth placed Middlesbrough. More realistically though a strong end to this season would set the team up nicely for a promotion challenge next year.
Bolton can definitely be heartened by Saturday’s FA Cup performance and now concentrate on the remaining league campaign, starting this coming weekend against the Championship’s form team Watford.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
James tweets at @james_O_L