NOVEMBER’S victory over Bournemouth provided the tactical high point of Dougie Freedman’s Wanderers tenure but former Reebok defender Simon Charlton doubts whether the same approach can work twice.
Earned with efficiency and effort across the board, the 2-0 triumph at the Goldsands Stadium was described at the time as “the perfect performance” by Matt Mills, and was a rare example of when it has all gone right for the Whites this season.
Freedman’s counter-attacking plan had worked a treat away from home, built from the solid base of two holding midfielders in Jay Spearing and Medo Kamara.
Since the turn of the year, however, that same system has ceased to produce results and the manager’s cautious tactical approach has been brought into question by fans.
Heading into the first of a run of four home games in five that could prove critical for the under-pressure Scot, Charlton has urged him to take the shackles off his side when Bournemouth come to the Reebok tomorrow.
“For me, I have never been a fan of playing the two holding midfielders,” said the BBC Radio Manchester pundit. “I feel like they get in each other’s way too much.
“I think, given the situation Dougie is in, he could do himself a lot of favours by going for it and trying something a bit different.
“If Jermaine Beckford is fit, then fine, play two up front. But even if it’s putting Andre Moritz up there with Lukas Jutkiewicz, it would just give Bournemouth something else to think about.”
Wanderers’ troubles, say Charlton, were summed up after going a goal down at Ipswich last weekend.
“With this system you are relying on your full-backs to give you attacking width, and with great respect to both of them, they are not really that type of player,” he said.
“Alex Baptiste has done a decent job but Tim Ream isn’t a left-back, never mind an attacking left-back. It isn’t in his DNA.
“And just having that problem in one position brings the whole system into question.”
Charlton wonders what kind of atmosphere will greet the players tomorrow after two defeats on the road.
With many supporters calling for a change in management, top to bottom, there is unlikely to be much patience shown in the stands if Wanderers make a poor start against the Cherries.
“If I was Eddie Howe I’d be telling them to get on this lot sharpish and get the crowd turned,” he said. “Dougie will know that’s the case and I know from listening to fans in the phone-ins that they are not happy.
“Fans are not stupid. They can see what is going on.
“Some, not all, but some of those players are not giving their all. They need to take a good look at themselves.
“Back when I played there in Big Sam’s day the fans knew full well that we weren’t the most technically-gifted side in the world. Far from it.
“But they knew that every one of us would run ourselves into the ground. And I don’t think fans are seeing that of some of those players at the moment.”
Charlton has got his fingers crossed this weekend will mark the start of a recovery for Freedman and Wanderers.
“I want Dougie to do well because he’s a young manager and it’s clear he’s in a tough situation with all the financial issues around,” he said. “Results dictate everything – and this isn’t just a situation about formations or selections, it’s what you are asking of those players when they go out there and whether they are actually doing what you have asked them to do.
“I just think it needs a fresh aspect. I hope they have gone into training this week and tried something different, really worked on it.
“You just want to see some spark from them because what we saw in the second half against Ipswich just wasn’t good enough.”