LIFE at Wanderers seems to have been an uphill battle so far for Liam Trotter – but should the boo-boys have given him more time before making up their minds?
Barely two months since he made his first appearance for the Whites against his former club Ipswich, Trotter was treated to the ignominy of ironic cheers from the travelling support as he was substituted against Huddersfield Town.
A few days later, the 25-year-old was booed ON to the pitch against Doncaster Rovers whilst replacing front man Joe Mason, with disgruntled fans chanting “4-4-2” at Dougie Freedman’s dugout, in protest at the apparently-defensive tactical switch.
With only 12 appearances under his belt in total, that may seem to some a quick judgement to make. Yes, Trotter hardly got off to a good start, with lacklustre displays in his first two home starts against Burnley and Brighton respectively, but was still feeling his way in a new squad and system.
It is hard to recall a new player being given such a rough ride so soon into his Wanderers career and the negative reaction has caused some concern within the walls of the club.
But after playing in a deeper-lying midfield role in Saturday’s victory over Barnsley, even some of Trotter’s harshest critics were forced to take a step back.
Considering his rocky road, Trotter’s hard-working performance alongside Jay Spearing in the engine room was an encouraging one and certainly the best of his Bolton career so far.
The whole 90 minutes was a glimpse into what Freedman has planned for next season, a possession-based brand of football that starts from the back. And though a slender 1-0 win, and a bitty second-half display showed there is still much to perfect, it was nevertheless a bold declaration by the Scot, who knows his preferred system does not necessarily go down well with everyone sitting in the stands at the Reebok.
Whether fans have warmed completely to Trotter or not, the athletic midfielder is expected to convert his loan move from Millwall into a permanent deal this summer.
And he is not expeced to be just a makeweight.
He is viewed as a flexible option, who can play the deeper role in Freedman’s 4-2-3-1 system, or in one of the three attacking positions behind the main striker.
Trotter has still to win over the Wanderers fans, yet the midfielder might take heart from the fact both Lukas Jutkiewicz and Joe Mason went on to become terrace favourites after rather lukewarm receptions.
Trotter’s introduction to the Reebok has been in stark contrast to the one he enjoyed down in Ipswich, where he made his breakthrough in the professional game.
At 19, the midfielder scored in a local derby against Colchester United on his home debut at Portman Road, and was instantly feted as a potential star of the future by the Tractor Boys faithful.
Joe Royle had given him his first glimpse of first-team football as a substitute against Plymouth Argyle at the end of the 2005/6 season.
But it was Royle’s successor, Jim Magilton, who gradually introduced him into the senior ranks via loan spells at Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United and Millwall.
It was a typical tale of local boy made good – and one Wanderers fans are equally anxious to celebrate.
But a falling out with the next Ipswich manager, Roy Keane, saw Trotter join a handful of promising young players, including Blackburn Rovers goal-getter extraordinaire Jordan Rhodes no less, to be shown the door by the Irishman.
At Millwall, Trotter’s industry in a struggling side was spotted by Freedman, who made him a surprise capture on the final day of the January transfer window. While the Wanderers squad looked to have sufficient midfielders at the time, consequent injury problems for Darren Pratley and Mark Davies have meant immediate first-team exposure, and perhaps more football than Freedman had bargained for.
It has also meant a swift judgement from the Wanderers supporters, and whether fans now learn to love Trotter might well depend on whether they learn to love the system in which he is playing.