You can't write off Wanderers' play-off prospects - Phil Brown

First published in Sport The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

FORMER Reebok coach Phil Brown has not ruled out a late play-off dash for Wanderers, if they can make their way past two more of his former employers in the course of the next five days.

Dougie Freedman's men take on Derby County at Pride Park tonight, followed by a home clash with Hull City on Saturday.

As someone who has managed all three clubs at one time or another – albeit his managerial spell with the Whites having been in a caretaker capacity – few are better placed than Brown to assess their relative promotion merits.

The former Burnden Park defender watched Wanderers grind out a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest on Saturday as a pundit for BBC Radio Manchester.

And though he was impressed with their defensive improvements, he believes maximum points in the next two games are a must if fans are to start looking up, rather than down in the table.

“When I watched them early on, they were very frail,” he said. “But at Forest, they were resilient which is not something I would have said of Bolton Wanderers in the previous seven or eight times I had seen them.

“They have always had the flair and the ability to score goals but they seemed to have had this soft underbelly.

“Do I think they can still get there? Well, there are 45 points to play for and Bolton have got 38 at the moment. That would take them onto 83. Between 73 and 76 has been, on average, the bottom (play-off) place in the last 10-15 years.

“That only allows for around 10 points in terms of mistakes. That's tight.

“I thought they needed nine from nine from these games against Forest, Derby and Hull City.

“All nine and you were definitely looking at the play-offs rather than relegation. But even with seven from nine you are positively looking at the play-offs. But he (Dougie Freedman) needs now to beat Derby and Hull.”

After working for several years under Colin Todd and Sam Allardyce at the Reebok, Brown struck out alone in management with Derby County in 2005.

But his spell in the East Midlands was not a happy one, and he left the club after only seven months in charge.

Nigel Clough has now led the Rams for the last four years, and Brown reckons the stability at Pride Park that he didn't get during his time with the club, will benefit them in the long term.

“Derby are a typical football club that have been through a lot of trials and tribulations,” he said. “They have sampled the high life in the Premier League and now find themselves in the Championship with the son of a former great manager.

“It looks, because of his name, he is getting more time than most. For me that gives Nigel Clough a chance to build from within.

“From my time at Derby, the facilities were second to none. Everything about Derby was built for the top flight.

“It just needed a manager to be given time to put his stamp on it and Nigel Clough is doing that.”

Brown's exploits with Hull are much publicised. He led the Tigers from the foot of the Championship to promotion via the play-offs, and then defied the odds again to keep them up in their first season in the Premier League.

And after watching Steve Bruce assemble a strong squad this season, Brown believes the club are heading back into the big time again.

“Under Nicky Barmby, they were tight in terms of scoring. But 'Brucie' has brought in a couple of strikers who seemed to have blossomed,” he said.

“I think Stevie has got it eight and looks like he is going to go up automatically.

“So, for Bolton, it's going to be a tough ask to get six points from the two games.

“For me, it's who wants it the most. Derby can still get in the play-offs. Bolton are playing with more confidence; not just confidence with the ball but confidence without it.

“And that speaks volumes. There's no doubt in my mind Bolton have got the quality.

“Now they need the organisation. That wasn't apparent to me in the previous games but they are starting to get it right.”

Brown believes Freedman's gameplan is starting to take shape at the right time, with all but the front places now looking secure.

“He wants two sitting midfielders – unsung heroes in Darren Pratley and Jay Spearing - and four in front of them who can go all over the place,” he added. “I am not sure he knows who his best two strikers are but I think Craig Davies and David Ngog are starting to force the issue.

“Everybody had a chance on taking a punt with Davies but no one was confident he would score goals at a higher level.

“Dougie took a chance on him and he is now showing that this kid looks hungry and wants to be involved.

“Eventually, he is going to have to start him.”

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