Jack Crosland on our scapegoat turned missing key man and captain
Wanderers have once again made a stuttering start to this year`s Sky Bet Championship campaign. Granted there have been some highlights. A strong performance saw the Whites see of Wolves and last minute equalisers against Dougie`s Forest and Brighton felt more like victories, however as much as we all enjoyed seeing Dougie`s head in his hands and Neil Lennon erupting with joy as Gary Madine ended his goal drought, we still languish in 21st position. So how can Neil Lennon spark a revival? Will the mystery striker, who seems further away by the day, be the answer? Although he will definitely help, I argue that the answer lies in our own ranks, or more specifically, the treatment table.
Once a permanent scapegoat amongst the Macron terraces, skipper Darren Pratley is now a pivotal member of the Bolton squad. Most Bolton fans would agree that we were all wrong about the former Swansea midfielder when he first arrived in 2011. Granted he struggled in the Premier League. It is easy to forget that he was constantly played out of position in either the number 10 role or the left hand side of midfield and only thrown on in the last 15 minutes of games, if he was lucky. After understandably quiet performances, Pratley was often picked out for criticism by the Wanderers faithful.
Now, 4 years on, Neil Lennon has to cope without one of his most influential players. Who would have thought that the former fall guy would be so sorely missed? After being handed the captain`s armband, Pratley gave a typical all action performance in his natural holding midfield position. To Wanderer`s woe, it is his only appearance this season to date after suffering an injury in the clash with Derby. Unsurprisingly, our form has suffered without the influential midfielder.
This isn`t the first time Bolton have felt the absence of Pratley. Neil Lennon`s Bolton career started strongly, but Wanderer`s form stuttered without him. In 17 games, under Neil Lennon, Bolton won 8, drew 5 and lost only 4 times with Pratley in midfield. After his season was ended by injury, Bolton won just 4 times, drew 5 and lost 9 games. Adding the one draw this season against Derby with Pratley playing, and the 1 win, 4 draws and 3 losses played with him, Bolton`s overall league record with Darren Pratley playing under Neil Lennon is 8 wins, 6 draws and 4 losses, and without him we have recorded just 5 wins, 9 draws and 12 losses. That`s a record of 1.67 points per games with Pratley playing, compared to 0.92 points per game without him.
Phew! Apologies for all the stats however I think the points per games stat in particular illustrates the point I`m trying to make. The Wanderers fans are right to follow Darren Pratley until he loves us. How often he plays will have a huge impact on Wanderer`s success this season. Although any potential new striker will have a positive influence on the goals scored column at least, the return of the skipper will undoubtedly send Wanderers flying up the table. His return can`t come quick enough.