Darren Pratley is Bolton Wanderers' perfect "warm-up" act
DARREN Pratley might well hold the record for the briefest captaincy in Bolton Wanderers’ history – but don’t bet against that changing in the future.
Re-invented and re-invigorated by Dougie Freedman’s arrival last October, the midfielder has transformed himself from terrace boo-boy to a vital cog in the Whites engine room.
Such is his standing in the current squad he was handed the skipper’s role before the Capital One Cup game at Tranmere last month – only to hand it back prior to kick-off when David Wheater’s injury before the game meant regular captain Zat Knight returned to the team.
“It was a nice feeling for the manager to give me the captain’s armband,” recalled the Londoner. “I didn’t know what the team was at the time, or whether Zat was playing or not, but I think I had 10 or 15 minutes in the warm-up and that was it – shortest captaincy ever. But at least we won the warm-up.”
Pratley has done well to keep a smile on his face considering his first 18 months at Wanderers under Owen Coyle.
After failing to hold down a place in the team and suffering relegation in his debut season at the Reebok, the ex-Swansea man was then laid low by a bout of meningitis.
On a personal basis, the prognosis now appears much better under Freedman, although Pratley admits he would be a lot happier at present if Wanderers were winning games.
“It would have been hard giving me a captain’s armband sitting on the bench,” he smiled.
“It’s obvious I wasn’t happy when I first came here, not playing, especially because I thought I had done well in pre-season and had been in and out of the team. I didn’t really get a chance.
“But things have changed around. I’m a positive person and hopefully now we can start winning – that’s the most important thing – but if I can keep my place in the team too, then great.”
Wanderers go into this afternoon’s game rooted to the bottom of the Championship table for the first time since 1993, having endured their worst start since 1984. The negative stats are racking up for Freedman’s men but Pratley believes part of the problem in the last few weeks has been of the team’s own making.
“Everyone wants to do well, whatever job you are in,” he said. “And if you try too hard you can over-complicate things. You can take that extra touch instead of giving an easy ball.
“So maybe we do need to relax a bit to get that first win under our belts. Then we can start enjoying football and getting on a roll. Waiting for that first win is always going to be difficult because the longer it goes on, the more you guys (the media) write about it, and the more the pressure builds up.
“If you win Saturday and Tuesday – as we want to do against Leeds and Derby - I don’t know where it would take us in the table but it would definitely look better.”
All eyes will be on Wanderers’ front man Jermaine Beckford this afternoon, with the one-time Leeds United goalscoring prodigy struggling to win over fans at his new club.
Pratley admits the pressure to perform will be even greater for his team-mate against his former club.
“When you play against one of your old teams you try to play your normal game but when you know a lot of them, sometimes the occasion can get the better of you,” he said.
“Sometimes you see familiar faces you haven’t seen for a long time and it’s hard, especially away from home.
“He wants to score goals and he definitely did that at Leeds. When I’ve spoken to him about the club, he certainly enjoyed his time there.
“He’ll want to do well and hopefully he can score, it would be good for him.”