Still plenty to think about this season for Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman
EIGHT games to go, 24 points to play for, but did Wanderers’ season effectively end when the final whistle blew on victory over Blackpool in midweek?
Talk of play-offs looked fanciful even after the February mark at which the club burst into life last season. It disappeared completely after the home defeat against Brighton, which all of a sudden had fans glancing anxiously the other way.
While Dougie Freedman insisted this week he has never once thought the Whites were in danger of relegation, it is safe to say his confidence has not always been shared on the terraces.
But even the club’s biggest critics this season would agree Wanderers had more in reserve than the likes of Barnsley, Yeovil and Co in the real danger zone, which raises the question: exactly what IS left to play for?
Tomorrow, some local pride will be at stake as Wigan Athletic come to the Reebok. Some of the more envious Wanderers fans may revel in the idea of putting a spanner in the works for Uwe Rosler’s FA Cup semi-finalists as they look to recapture the trophy and maintain their play-off hopes.
Beyond that, and it is a question of professional pride for most of Dougie Freedman’s squad – although for some, there might yet be a chance to alter their future.
Alex Baptiste has remedial work to do after his red card against Yeovil, particularly in the light of some impressive performances from loanee Alan Hutton.
And likewise in the centre of defence there seems to be a tussle for position that could shape Freedman’s thinking for next season.
Zat Knight is out of contract in the summer and has been heavily linked with a move to America with Philadelphia Union, but the club skipper’s recent improved performances have raised a few questions about whether he could or should be retained. David Wheater remained enthusiastic about the remainder of the campaign when he was pressed on the subject after the Blackpool game, as well he might after such problems with injury. And for the much-improved Matt Mills it will be a similar story as he tries desperately to win back the position he dominated for most of the season.
Chung-Yong Lee will be looking to sharpen up ahead of this summer’s World Cup and the inevitable stream of links with a move elsewhere.
Mark Davies and Adam Bogdan also fall into the category of saleable assets who are attracting admiring glances from elsewhere.
Strikers Lukas Jutkiewicz and Joe Mason join defender Hutton as loan players who need to keep their foot on the gas to try to earn a permanent deal at Wanderers, or indeed one elsewhere.
And perhaps most importantly, Freedman will be desperately keen to finish a frustrating season on a high.
The Scot has come under fire from his own club’s fans and faces a crucial summer of rebuilding, potentially under a tighter budget with the reduced parachute payments from the Premier League.
If he can maintain the current run until the end of the season he may well win back a few of the doubters who may be mulling over renewing their season tickets at the Reebok for another 12 months.