Manager Dougie Freedman sees Reading as acid test for Bolton Wanderers
IF Wanderers stand any chance of staging a salvage job in the second half of this season then Dougie Freedman believes tomorrow’s result at Reading will be a useful barometer.
Despite being closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs, the Whites boss is still hopeful his side will have something to aim at in May.
But the Scot is realistic enough to know Wanderers are running out of time for any sort of assault on the top six, late or otherwise, and have got to rid themselves of a frustrating habit of drawing games.
Freedman believes his opponents Reading, a side fresh out of the Premier League but still with plenty of Championship knowhow, have avoided most of the hangover that blighted Wanderers after their relegation.
“Nobody has found it easy, even QPR are starting to have a little blip,” he said. “When you have come down to the Championship from the Premier League, there is a different way of playing, different intensity. Games are more physical and that puts pressure on the player in terms of the mentality that ‘we are expected to win.’ “When you have been relegated, the likelihood is you have spent the majority of the season in the bottom five. So, your football is a lot different in the way you have had to play to survive; you get a point here and there.
“When you come down you have got to flip that whole mentality around and think you've got to win a game of football. However, for the last year you have played this survival, compact, tuck in football. And there seems to be a problem and something I have looked at over many years.
“Reading only went up for one year so they had players with a Championship mentality. But they kept a certain personnel, a goalkeeper, a back four and one or two wide players and a striker who have been there and done it. That's keeping them afloat.
“It will be a difficult game physically so we have got to make sure we are ready for a fight. But I am not fearful.”
Freedman has not given up on emulating last season’s late charge for the play-offs, thwarted in the end by a single goal.
“At the beginning of the season I felt we could achieve top six and I still feel it right now,” he said. “We have had a few hiccups along the way; losing players with injuries at the wrong times.
“But I still feel if we can get a run going, we are very capable of crossing that magical fine line. We have had so many draws but it is not draws when we are hanging on but draws when other teams are hanging on.
“If we can overcome that, especially at home if we can notch up four or five wins, it is still achievable to come in at the back door which normally happens in the Championship. I haven't given up hope.
“Last season we had one or two key signings January time and that's the little boost it can give you. I still think at the back we are very light and we still need one or two signings that will really help us.”