Date: 17th March 2009 at 12:33pm
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Gary Megson has backed under fire centre-back Andy O`Brien. The Irishman was directly responsible for Fulham`s first goal in Saturday`s defeat and had a major part to play in the second, although Gretar Steinsson, Ricardo Gardner, Jlloyd Samuel and Jussi Jaaskelainen could all have done more to prevent the visitors regaining the lead.

‘Andy will put his hands up,` said the Ginger One. ‘He is the most honest footballer you will ever meet.

‘He gives everything he’s got. He makes mistakes and holds his hands up and he won’t hide from that. We are lucky to have players of that ilk.`

Bolton fans might argue about being lucky. There wasn`t exactly a wave of enthusiasm when O`Brien joined the club, but he proved the doubters wrong with a string of competent, no-frills performances. This season, he is nervous, error-prone and lacking in confidence.

The players who might replace O`Brien don`t inspire confidence either. Loan signing Sebastien Puygrenier is poor in the air and prone to losing his man, and prior to joining Bolton, Danny Shittu spent every season bar one playing in the lower leagues.

Up until last season, the Wanderers had been able to rely on their centre-backs. Gudni Bergsson and Bruno N`Gotty were quality operators. As was Tal Ben Haim, before he lost his way after joining Chelsea. Abdoulaye Faye could also stand in there, although he was better as a defensive midfielder, something else that the Whites are short of.

That all changed at the start of the 2007-8 campaign, when the favoured pairing was Abdoulaye Meite, a poor imitation of N`Gotty, and the execrable Gerald Cid, who was signed from Bordeaux and gave the impression of having over indulged on that region`s grape produce every time he played. As back up there was Lubomir Michalik, who is now plying his trade at the right level, with Leeds United in League One.

Looking at the youth set up doesn`t provide any comfort either. Chris Basham plays regularly in central defence for the reserves but he`s not the finished product in that position yet and Jaroslaw Fojut has left the club. At the start of last season, outstanding prospect Blazej Augustyn also returned home to Poland.

The immediate future doesn`t look promising. It would take O`Brien to return to his previous form, Puygrenier to adapt to the English game or Shittu to perform at a significantly higher level than he has done before to rectify matters. None of those things look likely. If Bolton survive this term, then they will need to spend big in the summer, in order to find a suitable partner for Gary Cahill.

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