Can Dougie Freedman find right man to fill the void?
IF one fact is agreed among Wanderers fans it is that the loan arrival of Craig Dawson last January changed the course of the season for the better.
The fact the Whites have not won a Championship game in 2013 without Dawson in the starting line-up speaks volumes.
But with West Brom looking unlikely to let the former England Under-21 star out on loan again, it now falls on Dougie Freedman to pull another rabbit out of the hat.
Dawson is fourth in line for a starting place with the Baggies, has started only one Capital One Cup game this season, and only two since leaving Bolton. Whether the 23-year-old’s patience runs out, who knows, but Gabriel Tamas’s recent exit means West Brom boss Steve Clarke is down to only four recognised centre-halves so January would be the earliest opportunity to change his club’s mind.
Wanderers fans are in need of a pick-me-up and though the lack of signings on transfer day was lamented – it need not prove a problem if the Whites boss can find the right man.
When Dawson arrived in January it looked as if Freedman’s side would be sucked into a relegation battle. He came into the side after the defeat at Watford that saw the team slump into 20th position, three points off the drop zone, and left for the Hawthorns with them sitting sixth.
Once again it appears central defence could be the spot Freedman is looking to strengthen after Zat Knight and David Wheater struggled in the first five games.
For Knight, many believe Dawson’s departure has also come at a cost to his own game. The big defender, installed as skipper in pre-season, had been playing some of his best football after the New Year as the Whites surged up the table, but has since failed to make the same effective bond with the returning Wheater.
Freedman is scouring for the right man and thought he had found him in Crystal Palace skipper Paddy McCarthy, who was available after missing all of last season with a serious groin injury.
The Dubliner has now suffered a setback in his recovery, forcing Freedman to look elsewhere, and with the forthcoming game at home to Leeds United in mind, that could open up an opportunity for Matt Mills or Tim Ream to show that a ready-made replacement is already in the camp.
Neither man has held down a regular starting spot under Freedman – Ream’s longest run is three games, while Mills played in the Scot’s first five games in charge but has barely featured since.
American Ream’s performance against QPR was regarded as one of his best since arriving at Wanderers, while Mills has been praised for his attitude in training. Both, it would seem, are ripe for seizing their opportunity.
That could certainly reduce the pressure on Freedman to find the supposed answer to his side’s problems, although three points against Leeds next weekend would no doubt cast a different light on everything that has gone on since the players trudged off the pitch at Ewood Park.
Time is a great healer, they say, but three points might be an instant cure.