After thrashing Blackburn and Leeds United in successive games, Bolton Wanderers head to Derby County on Tuesday evening, hoping to extend their winning run. A couple of weeks ago, this would have been seen as a foregone conclusion in favour of the home side, but Dougie Freedman’s men have three victories on the bounce, are unbeaten in four, and at last look like they want to be on the pitch.
Pinpointing reasons for the revival isn’t easy. Lukas Jutkiewicz and Joe Mason work well together and the midfield diamond behind them looks both solid and flexible, despite having little width, but that doesn’t explain the improvement in morale. Freedman has his own ideas.
“The dynamics of the group have changed, One of two have to move on, on or two come in and all of a sudden you can play in a different style,” he told the official press conference.
“You can only play with got you’ve got at times. You’ve come down from the Premiership and you’re holding certain players that may want to move on, and they’re frustrated as much as you, so therefore when you clear the decks, you get younger, hungrier players in, therefore the results can seem to get a different way and that’s what’s happening right now.”
After what was seen by some as the premature sacking of Nigel Clough, Derby have Steve McClaren at the helm aka Second Choice Steve, The Wally With the Brolly, or just plain “Schteve”, if you were unfortunate enough to witness his excruciating interviews on Dutch TV.
McClaren is still receiving much justified ridicule for his pitiful spell as England boss, but Derby have been clever, letting him do what he’s good at, primarily coaching, whilst the grown ups look after the other aspects of running a football club. They’ve also kept him away from the umbrella stand, which is wise.
As a result, the Rams have performed solidly since Clough’s departure and lie in third place, despite a blip at the weekend, as they went down to relegation candidates Millwall, now led by the supercharged country bumpkin that is Ian Holloway.
Historically, Bolton have a lousy record at Derby having won just nine times and lost on 39 occasions whilst conceding 140 goals. They can’t all have been Zat Knight’s fault.
Speaking of the club captain, he managed to get on the score sheet against Leeds for just the third time in 156 appearances, and proved that it’s possible to trap the ball into the net – an unusual technique but one that he’s welcome to repeat.
With the Wanderers too far back to mount a realistic promotion charge, the pressure is on Derby. A defeat for Bolton won’t be a reason to dust off the pitchforks, but with momentum building it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the visitors emerge from Pride Park with all three points.
– Richard McCormick