Holden in reserve but still putting in the hard yards
AN unheralded 90 minutes ticked by in the career of Stuart Holden on Tuesday night, far away from the fanfare and adulation he received on his long-awaited return from injury.
Ever since the American midfielder stepped back out on to the turf against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light back in January to play in only his second game in 23 months there has been a constant clamour from Wanderers fans demanding to know when he would once again be featuring on a regular basis.
Yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of “that” tackle by Manchester United’s Jonny Evans, and that he was back out there at all was a victory for his medical advisors and the player’s own unbreakable will. But given the frustrations endured on the Reebok terraces in the last 12 months, Holden’s return was seen as something of a fresh start for all concerned, and maybe the spark the team had been lacking to that point.
Momentum gathered after another cup cameo against Everton and a longer outing against Peterborough in the Championship. As the team’s form continued to pick up, talk shifted to a new contract and it seemed a matter of time before the 27-year-old burst into Dougie Freedman’s first 11. And yet 20 days later Holden had seen no further competitive action over the course of four games as a watching substitute and was putting in the hard yards again at Euxton for the development squad in their 2-0 defeat against Stoke City.
On the one hand, Wanderers’ reluctance to push Holden back into action is understandable. With his contract up in the summer the club must be sure that if another deal is to be agreed, the midfielder is going to be able to compete over its course. Club insiders have said repeatedly that despite his return to playing duties, he is effectively still in rehabilitation, meaning his training and recovery schedules will need to be carefully monitored.
The upturn in form – and particularly that of Jay Spearing and Darren Pratley – has also potentially made it difficult for Freedman to make alterations.
While Wanderers fans have been somewhat placated by the long unbeaten run that only came to an end against Ipswich Town on Saturday, Holden’s admirers on the other side of the Atlantic are equally keen to see their compatriot getting regular games.
The US team have made a poor start to World Cup qualifying, losing to Honduras in their opening game of the final group, and face key games against Costa Rica and Mexico in the next seven days.
There is also the matter of the Gold Cup this summer, hosted by the US, and with the national team in need of a midfield ball-winner in the Holden mould, each week the ex-Houston Dynamo sits as an unused substitute is debated long and hard Stateside, just as it is in the pubs and clubs of Bolton itself.
Freedman has spoken positively about opening contract talks with Holden for next season and has also expressed his frustration at being unable to throw him into the action off the bench in recent weeks.
But, given an international break to compose his thoughts, the Scot must be tempted to see just how far the American has come after he came through another full game in midweek.
Though not quite sink or swim, there will come a time when Holden’s recovery will have to be put to the test, and who better to supply a dose of enthusiasm in order to reignite a play-off push?