Date: 17th May 2010 at 11:07pm
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The Case For The Defence

So, in the end we didn’t need to go to the sharp end of the season to be safe from relegation. In any other season, our points total would have meant virtually certain safety, the mythical forty point target to survival only having been bettered once by a relegated team since Bolton returned to the Premier League.

Whether this is a good thing or not is a moot point. Over the past three seasons our survival has been guaranteed by the fact that at least three teams were palpably worse than us. However, the two teams that are already coming up from the Championship are arguably stronger than what went down and this should be a concern. Newcastle cannot be expected to be as awful as they were two seasons ago and West Brom will get it right one season and it is more likely than not that it will be next season. Of the two play-off teams we would expect to get the requisite six points that should be taken off cannon fodder.

That we need a goal scorer is not in question. Our inability to finish off teams caused us to drop points unnecessarily. Kevin Davies is a great leader and chips in with vital goals but the fact that he has been the leading scorer for the past two seasons while playing mostly a support role highlights the problem. That Gary Cahill was third in the goal scoring lists adds to it.

Another problem is our record against the so called ‘Sky 4’. Eight games played, eight lost. Whilst we may have seen the end, for the time being, of Liverpool as a force in English football, if you throw City, Spurs and Villa into the equation it means that of the top seven clubs we took two points. Even Portsmouth managed better.

The days when coming to the Reebok used to put the wind up bigger clubs has long gone. Barring the away game at Chelsea, which the home team seemed to think was a game not worth turning up for and in which we could, and should, have had two penalties, the game at Old Trafford, when United took their foot off the pedal and the home games against Spurs and a ten man City, capitulation seemed to be the word. When we went behind, there seemed to be no answer and the four goals shipped at the Emirates, the five at Villa Park and the four United scored at the Reebok contributed to the worst goal difference since the Roy McFarland/Colin Todd experiment imploded. This is disregarding the two 4-0 defeats that bundled us out of the cups.

Some will point to the Gary Megson experience and say this is the reason, but a good number of these defeats were after he had gone to his garden. However it may be expected that if you are trying to change a system, sometimes it will go wrong. Owen Coyle did manage a better return of results (just) than his predecessor. Were the results of the two managers indicative of the way that they want football played or was it the players, having being used to one system, sometimes not being able to grasp the difference between the two styles? The answer, I feel, lies somewhere in between.

And so, this brings us to how the players rated over the season. None of them had a truly great season, mistakes on all sides adding to the exasperation of a Bolton Wanderers fan. Some of them have reasons for this; being too young, having glandular fever or being Paul Robinson. Some performed heroics whilst others trod water. Here then, with their statistics for the season and the likelihood that they will be here next season, are the goalkeepers and defence. The midfield and forward line will follow.

GOALKEEPER:

22. Jussi Jääskeläinen: Played 43 Scored 0 Yellow Cards 3 Red Cards 0 Rating: 8.0
Will he be at the Reebok next season? 90% certain yes.

The goalkeeper Arsenal wished they had, Jussi continues to get better as he gets older. Always the commensurate shot stopper, his kicking, throwing and shouting at his defence gets better every year. He has again proved his worth to the team with more top class saves than most Premiership goalkeepers can only dream about. However, mistakes were coming into his play during the late autumn/early winter and one only has to look at the Sam Ricketts own goal against Blackburn to see this. Jussi has said this week that the atmosphere in the stadium around this time was affecting his play and since the departure of Gary Megson he has returned to his best form, being mostly blameless whenever the team got a tonking. A small cloud on the horizon is that Arsenal need a new goalkeeper and, of those keepers outside the upper echelons, Jussi is the best and at 35 still has years left in him. Due to this, I feel that he is not 100% certain to remain at the Reebok but with his family firmly settled in the area, even if Arsenal approach him, he may decline.

26. Ali Al-Habsi: Played 2 Scored 0 Yellow Cards 0 Red Cards 0 Rating 6.0
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 50% certain yes.

Another frustrating season for the Omanian keeper who would have expected to get his chance by now, especially after the heroics performed two seasons ago. One game apiece in the Carling and FA Cups is not a good enough reward for him. At 28 he is seven years younger than Jussi and has a contract until 2013 but someone, either the club or Al Habsi himself, is going to have to make a decision soon about what he wants or the splinters in his backside or going to turn into boils. If a promoted team comes in for him, I dare to say he would be very interested.


DEFENCE:

3. Jlloyd Samuel: Played 18 Scored 0 Yellow Cards 4 Red Cards 1 Rating 6.0
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 40% certain yes

Initially lost his place to Paul Robinson but, when even Megson realised that Robinson wasn`t that good, regained his place. Gave some solid performances but was then dropped in favour of Robinson again. When Robinson racked up enough yellow cards, Jlloyd was brought back and immediately scored United`s opening goal at the Reebok. He was never picked again, which more or less sums up Jlloyd`s career at the club. He is pretty much a nothing player, just plodding along. He was signed on a free and has lived up to the price tag. When Paul Robinson is picked ahead of you, it is time to move on.

4. Paul Robinson: Played 27 Scored 0 Yellow Cards 7 Red Cards 0 Rating 6.5
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 100% certain yes.

The enigma that is Paul Robinson. At the beginning of the season he was brought in on loan but he quickly, the Bolton News said, reassured fans that this was only temporary and that he would sign a full deal by the end of the season. This was not the reassurance some fans wanted, especially as his first appearances showed that he should have stopped in the Championship and he was quickly replaced with Jlloyd Samuel. Quietly made his way back into the team and, although he was skinned when faced with a speedy winger, became more effective in a settled back line. Will never be everyone`s favourite but, and whisper this quietly, out of the two left backs we have, I`d prefer him to stay. Seems to be an honest individual and a little wayward in his tackling, but I`d prefer that to Jlloyd`s airy fairy defending. Plus, Coyle made the transfer permanent so that says something.

5. Gary Cahill: Played 34 Scored 7 Yellow Cards 3 Red Cards 0 Rating 7.5
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 25% certain yes.

The clever thinking will tell you that Cahill had a good season and, up to a point, he did. Being picked for the England squad is no mean feat when you play in a defence that at times ships goals and he was extremely unlucky that the blood clot came along and scuppered his chances of making the 30 man pre-World Cup squad. Of course, it could have been worse. But, he was part of that defence that shipped goals and when you are playing for Bolton that is not going to get you into the England team anytime soon. He was solid when called upon and his partnership with Zat Knight got better as the season went on. Is he worth £15-20 million? If someone is willing to pay it, then of course. That Arsenal are crying out for a central defender with presence is a worry but him not making the World Cup squad may put them off, leading to another season with us. Will go to one of the big boys eventually, let`s just hope he can get that cap before he does.

12. Zat Knight: Played 41 Scored 1 Yellow Cards 2 Red Cards 0. Rating 7.0
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 100% certain yes.

Never mind Zat Knight, he looked like he was playing at night with the lights off for a good part of the remaining months of Gary Megson. Seemed to be in the right place at the right time for the ball to bounce off him either into the path of an opposition player or straight into the goal. Then Owen Coyle came and he gradually found the form that once had him in the England squad. I`m not saying that he is the greatest defender, but when Cahill was clotted he stepped into the breach and became the senior partner next to Sam Ricketts and hasn`t really looked back since. Whatever effect Owen Coyle had on him it was fantastic. Still sometimes does things that make you quickly draw in your breath but, hey, he plays in Bolton`s defence. People have been doing that for years.

15. Grétar Steinsson: Played 31 Scored 1 Yellow Cards 4 Red Cards 1 Rating: 6.5
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 100% certain yes.

A victim of the Gary Megson splurge on new defenders, even though he had performed manfully the previous season, Steinsson also eventually managed to force himself back into the first team, although sometimes used on the right wing. It is difficult to dislike Gretar, but then again we generally hold our Icelandic players in high regard. When Cahill got his blood clot, Steinsson got back the right back berth and held onto it. Definitely a fans` favourite as he actually looks like he is trying. Solid, dependable, woeful crosser. Like a white Ricardo Gardner.

18. Sam Ricketts: Played 33 Scored 1 Yellow Cards 3 (2 in one game). Red Cards 0
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 100% certain yes.

If, like me, the name Ricketts makes you shudder, then when Megson signed a player Hull didn`t want you would have been allowed to wonder just what the hell Gary Megson was doing, then realised that this was usually a permanent state of mind. However, another honest defender who is nothing special, he filled in manfully when Cahill was missing, even though as a right back, he had no business being in the centre of defence. Once Cahill came back he was out and on the subs bench but as a dependable back up for both right back and now centre he will come in useful next season.

31. Andy O`Brien: Played 9 Scored 0 Yellow Cards 0 Red Cards 0
Will he be at the Reebok next season: 100% certain no.

It`s not his fault, but AOB`s time at Bolton has come to an end. Effective previously but has committed the cardinal sin of central defenders of getting too slow and not having a quick enough football brain to catch up. His cards were marked when Coyle preferred Sam Ricketts in the central defence. Will either move down a division or to one of the promoted teams. Cheers AOB and good luck.

Others:
2. Nicky Hunt. Didn`t play at all and was loaned to Derby where he was eventually dropped. Someone, somewhere has an idea where his career went, but wherever it`s going it`s not at the Reebok. Will only be here next season if no one else wants him. Which as likely as not, they won`t.

24. Danny Shittu. Didn`t play at all and not good enough for anybody of Championship standard to want him on loan. States that he wants to get his future resolved before the World Cup. I wish he`d hurry up and leave. Shall we club together for the fare?

30. Chris Basham. Mostly played as a substitute and it may be worthwhile sending him out on loan next season as his chances appear limited. Could still play a part in the future and has a contract to the end of next year so seeing how he progresses next season somewhere else could be good for both parties.

 

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