Don’t blame Dougie for battered Bolton
BOLTON is not the place to be at the moment. Literally. Against Bournemouth on Saturday, the Reebok was so desolate I thought their fans had come dressed as plastic chairs. But no, it really was that empty. Which is no surprise when you consider Dougie Freedman’s men have won just twice at home all season, the worst record this side of Yeovil and Birmingham.
Freedman is taking plenty of stick, as are his players. After they squandered a 2-0 lead to scramble a ninth home draw of the campaign last weekend, boos cascaded from the stands as frustration turned to fury.
Such feelings also rumble through cyberspace.You need only peruse any message board – and Freedman certainly won’t – to witness the almost uniform antipathy towards the Scot.
I do fear for him. As both Gary Megson and Owen Coyle discovered to their cost, nothing twitches a chairman’s trigger finger like falling gates and febrile terraces.
But I also pity him. Because when I watched that team on Saturday, I saw him being let down – as Coyle was – by a bunch of bottlers who reacted to conceding a goal by waving a white flag. Is that Freedman’s fault?
Sure, he could be accused of failing to inspire confidence. Perhaps he does lack the ebullience of a Harry Redknapp or the supernatural ability of Jose Mourinho to engender fighting spirit and devotion to the cause.
But then, Harry and Jose have never been tasked with lifting players beaten senseless for two years straight. The stats are stark – of the 114 league matches played since the start of the 2011-12 season, Bolton have lost 49.
And too many players – David Wheater, Zat Knight, Chris Eagles, Mark Davies, Chung Yong-Lee – have been there for every gruelling one of them.
“When you lose,” said former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, “there’s a gorilla that jumps on your back. And every time you lose, it gets heavier and heavier.”
Right now, there a male silverback riding merrily round on half the first team, putting lead in their legs and doubt in their minds. That’s not to say they are bad players. But psychologically, they are shot to pieces.
Risks aren’t being taken. Sense of adventure is nil. Simple tasks that should be instinctive are over-thought. And adversity is met with a slump of the shoulders, a resigned: “Here we go again.” It must sicken Freedman, a Glaswegian grafter who, as a player, made up for any technical limitations with energy and commitment.
Me, I don’t for a minute believe that Freedman would keep a single one of them if he could afford to get rid.
Unfortunately, Bolton are skint and the players are on Premier League contracts; unless somebody wants to buy them – which is a bit like trying to sell Kaoto Star in his current state – he is stuck.
It is a miserable state of affairs for Bolton fans, who are currently watching players they resent and a manager they distrust. No wonder they are voting with their feet.
But they must ask themselves if sacking Freedman is really the answer. Perhaps he could be bolder. Perhaps he should have signed the creative No10 type Bolton so desperately need. These are valid criticisms.
But ultimately, a manager is only as good as his players, and any new man would encounter the same problems.
Bolton need a complete overhaul and until Freedman can take an axe to his side, he deserves to be spared the chop.
Under pressure: Bolton’s Lukas Jutkiewicz takes on Bournemouth’s Steve Cook watched by Dougie Freedman