Here comes the cavalry! High-profile casualties riding to the rescue
THE comeback kids are on their way but has the cavalry arrived too late to fire Wanderers’ long-awaited dash for promotion?
Looking down the names listed on the back of match-day programmes this season, it has been difficult to fathom just why the Whites have struggled so badly since dropping out of the Premier League.
For all the squad’s top flight credentials, there has clearly been one or more ingredient missing to turn a group littered with top-flight experience into one capable of producing in the Championship on a regular basis.
Dougie Freedman has, since his arrival from Crystal Palace, highlighted a few areas in need of immediate attention – organisation, fitness and confidence – and has claimed repeatedly he inherited an “imbalanced” squad from Owen Coyle, lacking depth in certain positions.
In what has effectively been a mid-season pre-season, there has been significant change made behind the scenes at Euxton in an effort to get some up to speed. Others who did not feature in the long-term plan, like Martin Petrov, have been allowed to jet off into the sunset altogether, while youngsters such as Tom Eaves, Joe Riley and Chris Lester have been integrated more fully into the first-team picture.
The often talked about “relegation hangover” has been an issue at the Reebok, but also for the other two sides who fell through the trap door, Wolves and Blackburn Rovers.
In Wanderers’ case, however, it could be that part of the solution to all these problems has been hiding in the treatment room.
Injury issues have blighted the club over the last couple of years, from Stu Holden’s horrific leg injury at Old Trafford to Chung-Yong Lee’s double fracture in a meaningless pre-season friendly at Newport County.
For the first time in a while, however, the queue to see the medical staff is dying down.
Long-term absentees such as Holden, Josh Vela and David Wheater are back in regular training and being nurtured towards a playing return.
Mark Davies and Matt Mills are also making significant progress, with their comeback pencilled in over the next couple of weeks for the development squad. And while Chung-Yong Lee remains on the protected list, with screws inserted into his leg still causing issues, his steadily-improving performances have been a source of encouragement.
Freedman’s focus on fitness and conditioning also looks to have brought a few fringe players in from the cold.
Marcos Alonso produced what many consider his best display in two and a half years at the Reebok against Everton in the FA Cup last Saturday. Time will tell whether it proves to be his last.
The full-back is wanted by Fiorentina but is currently looking a completely different player than the one who has struggled so much with injuries since his arrival from Real Madrid.
Marvin Sordell is another of Wanderers’ previously forgotten men who now seem to be making headlines for the right reasons.
After spending so long out of the reckoning, it seemed the £3.2million striker was heading towards the “flop” category – but since Freedman’s arrival, now appears anything but.
Although the England Under-21s man remains a “work in progress” according to his manager, four goals in four games suggests a player in form.
All of the above paints an optimistic picture. But the Whites would still have to conjure something special to close a 13-point gap between themselves and the play-offs.
Even last season’s strong finishers, Reading, were 11 points better off at this stage of the campaign, and sitting seventh, so were Wanderers to get close to the top six it would be some achievement.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
STUART HOLDEN Status – Still early days in his recovery despite recent playing time. It might not be until next season that we see the American at his very best.
Prospects – Out of contract in the summer but focussed on getting back to the talismanic figure of his Premier League days. The whole of Bolton hopes he can.
DAVID WHEATER Status – Was down to play for the reserves on Monday night but could still be a good month off featuring for the first team after his knee injury.
Prospects – Exactly the kind of no-nonsense defender that Wanderers have been crying out for. Wheats’ influence off the pitch has been a big miss too.
MARK DAVIES Status – Fallen a little behind the dates the club had predicted for his return from shoulder surgery but recent talk of a contract extension suggests he is not far away.
Prospects – Wants to stay at the club despite speculation linking him elsewhere. His bustling style should breathe fresh life into the midfield.
MATT MILLS Status – Like Davies, still a few weeks away but has been spotted around the Euxton training ground, stepping up his comeback from a hamstring tear.
Prospects - Injury sabotaged his best performance for the club at Huddersfield Town and the ex-Leicester man still has a point to prove to Wanderers’ fans.
JOSH VELA Status – Now looking fit and ready after knee surgery. Made his return for the development squad at the same time as Holden and played against Everton in the cup.
Prospects – Brightest prospect to come out of the Academy for some time. The teenager shows the cockiness of a player with real talent.
MARCOS ALONSO Status – On his best run of games since coming to the Reebok but heavily linked with a move to Serie A with Fiorentina. May remain until the summer.
Prospects – Dougie Freedman didn’t rule out convincing the full-back to stay but the lure of big money in Florence is certainly a big one for the defender.
MARVIN SORDELL Status – Seems to be letting his football do the talking after experiencing a whole host of problems since signing from Watford on deadline day last season.
Prospects – Decidedly more rosy than they looked in the past. Sordell is scoring goals and looking happier and fitter under Freedman.