Jack Crosland on the return of a player we missed for almost a year
Bolton`s last home clash with league leaders Brighton saw Max Clayton return from the knee injury that kept the young attacker out for around 9 months. What a return it was! A noticeably improved attacking display, coupled with a man of the match performance, sparked excitement in The Macron terraces. Although an incredibly disappointing 4-3 loss at QPR followed, it is worth noting that the Wanderers side that looked inept in front of goal has now produced 5 goals in 2 games against 2 of the leagues stronger sides. Frustratingly, the impressive defensive record the Bolton backline boasted early in the season has been obliterated by Huddersfield Town and Queen`s Park Rangers, making the need to score goals even more of a pressing issue. Welcome back Max Clayton.
In weeks leading up to Clayton`s return, The Whites looked in dire needs of attacking inspiration. In the ex-Crewe man`s presence, attacking wise at least, we have started to look more like the side that Neil Lennon had surging towards The Championship play-offs at the start of his reign. Clayton was pivotal to the side that saw Lennon`s Wanderers sky rocketing up the league. His injury, amongst injuries to other key players, ended any hope of a trip to Wembley last year. Almost a year on Clayton comes into a Bolton team with a wholly different challenge. This season`s Bolton, unfortunately, are not good enough to challenge the likes of Middlesbrough and Derby County; however it is certainly good enough to maintain the club`s Championship status as long as players like Max Clayton are in the team. I am a big fan of Max. I would even argue it was one of Dougie Freedman`s best moves as Bolton manager when he brought him to the club. He is one of those players that can beat a man, create something out of nothing and create goals that player`s like Liam Feeney couldn`t. If we are to move out of the relegation zone any time soon, Clayton will be a key part of that.
When a team is struggling it is easy to revert to defensive tactics to try to contain teams in better form. Neil Lennon now has to be brave and continue to keep faith in attacking players like Wellington Silva, Mark Davies and, of course, Clayton. I am confident he will. Yes, Bolton looked far stronger at the back until Clayton returned but the toothless attacking force could not have kept us in the league. A balance has to be found between an increased attacking threat and a compromised defensive line. It is clear to me, however, that balance has to involve Max.