MONDAY BIG MATCH VERDICT: Ipswich Town 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
REGARDLESS of how important the long-term vision is to stabilise Wanderers financially, the plan on the pitch has to go hand in hand.
Spend a short length of time in Dougie Freedman’s company and you will find a man passionate about helping to rebuild a football club from ground level, making it sustainable, and looking years into the future.
Every aspect of that blueprint is commendable but the harsh reality is that if results do not also follow, the theory sounds empty.
Even Freedman’s fiercest critics can see the manager is operating with one hand tied behind his back financially as the crippling Premier League hangover of inflated wages, overhead costs and under-performing players continues to bite.
And those who can get their head round the complexities of Financial Fair Play will see why it came along at exactly the wrong time for Wanderers.
It is a toxic mix to deal with – but unless the club deal with the short-term issue of getting points on the board, it is one they will be addressing in League One.
And that is where Freedman needs to start producing.
Following Wanderers on the road at present is starting to resemble a twisted version of Groundhog Day, only in stadia with different coloured seats.
Ipswich Town were the latest unspectacular and workmanlike side to benefit from some woeful finishing and a gift-wrapped opening goal, leading to three welcomed points in their chase for a play-off place.
Only Andy Lonergan will know what he was trying to attempt as he bundled David McGoldrick down in the box 10 minutes after the half-time break after fumbling a cross from Luke Chambers in a melee of players. The same striker got up to slot home his 13th goal of the season – which proved unlucky for Wanderers.
To that point the game had been sterile but at least Freedman’s side could lay claim to a couple of excellent chances, missed by Mark Davies and Neil Danns.
With Craig Davies loaned out to Preston and Jermaine Beckford still seven days away from a return, Freedman had no option but to stick Lukas Jutkiewicz up front alone and rely on his three more attack-minded midfielders to come up with the goods.
Once again, they didn’t.
Goals have dried up for Danns since he returned from Leicester City, likewise Davies since his comeback from injury.
The third of the triumvirate, Darren Pratley, worked as hard as anyone on the pitch but lacked the composure to do damage.
So with little or no goal threat in the opposition half, getting back into the game always looked a tall order.
Chris Eagles replaced Pratley but continues to look a shadow of his former self, barely getting a kick in his half hour on the pitch.
The decision to bring in an extra midfielder in Liam Trotter on transfer deadline day rather than a straight replacement for Preston-bound Craig Davies or the desperately needed defensive recruit sparked some bemusement among fans.
Trotter came on for his debut but disappeared into what became a sea of mediocrity before the final whistle.
Elsewhere, Marvin Sordell, Tom Eaves and Davies himself were getting on the scoresheet for their respective loan clubs to rub salt into the wounds.
But in a puzzling final substitution, Freedman called for Chung-Yong Lee – without a goal in just over a year – for the final 10 minutes, rather than Andre Moritz, a player the manager said recently he “considers a striker.”
There are reasons why Wanderers have struggled this season that require a glance at the bigger picture – but those are the short-term decisions most difficult to comprehend for the hardy souls who travelled 250 miles to Suffolk.
Freedman’s straightforwardness and single-mindedness got him into bother after the 7-1 defeat at Reading, after which he revealed his frustration as a section of his squad who were not good enough, in his opinion, to win games for the club.
But a few weeks on, and with no wholesale changes, the manager is now forced to turn round results with roughly the same group.
Trotter and Jutkiewicz – who showed up well in difficult circumstances – might give him slightly more scope, but at present it is difficult to name a single Wanderers player who could be considered “on form”.
At time of writing there is no change in either Eddie Davies or Phil Gartside’s view that Freedman is the right man for the job, and presumably that includes turning round results to avoid dropping into the bottom three.
Were the financial situation better around the Reebok, it is not unreasonable to suggest that their view may be different. But it isn’t, and even if a short-term decision were to be made, it also would have to be done with the longer-term aims in mind.
No incoming manager is going to get a chest of money to bring in his own men – they will be faced with exactly the same challenge as faces Freedman right now.
Whether Davies and Gartside stick or twist, it’s the same game in the end.
Freedman appealed for fans to back the club in their hour of need and right now that plan seems the sensible one, in my view.