Bolton Wanderers boss Dougie Freedman in a quandary over full-back berths
FULL-BACKS tend to be your reliable defensive types – those who nail down the position for a decade with the minimum of fuss.
A glance into the history books show reliable stalwarts like Alex Finney, Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle, Peter Nicholson, Gudni Bergsson, Bibi Gardner, Phil Brown, Jimmy Phillips, who were among the first names on the team-sheet.
In recent times, however, the two defensive positions have been problem areas, seemingly occupied by a never-ending supply of stop gaps and make-dos.
They have been targeted as weaknesses by the opposition, and highlighted as positions that desperately need strengthening by Dougie Freedman himself.
But with the Wanderers boss likely to use spare cash to fund more strikers, will that mean his defence remains vulnerable heading into the new campaign?
Freedman’s problems at left-back have been well-documented since losing Marcos Alonso last summer and opting to release the versatile Sam Ricketts for financial reasons.
Marc Tierney’s injury left him in the lurch last season and while the tough-tackling defender is due back in action in pre-season, there is no predicting how long he will take to find his form again.
There are temporary fixes in the camp already in Tim Ream – last season’s player of the year – and Alex Baptiste, but while both players performed manfully when called upon last term, neither would see their long term future on the left.
Youngster Andy Kellett is another player who may have staked a claim with his displays off the bench at the end of last season, although he is regarded more as a midfielder within the Whites ranks.
On the opposite side of defence, Freedman’s problems are highlighted by the fact he has played six different players at right-back in the last 10 months.
Despite playing much of his football at centre-half for his previous club Blackpool, Freedman made no secret of the fact he had signed Baptiste as a right-back last summer.
Whilst not always looking a natural in the position, the former Bloomfield Road favourite did conjure up some important goals to ease his transition at the Reebok.
But when Tierney’s injury forced Freedman to move the 27-year-old out on the left, Tyrone Mears’ brief but disappointing display at Blackburn Rovers convinced the Scot that he needed to seek help from elsewhere.
The arrival of Kevin McNaughton effectively spelled the end for Mears but unknowingly presented Wanderers with a whole new problem. The Cardiff City defender was so reliable at the Reebok he earned a new deal in the Premier League – and what had once looked like a certain deal in January then turned into another desperate search.
Another Scot, Alan Hutton, bridged the gap. The Aston Villa defender came in on loan and improved as his match fitness returned but the chances of him returning next year look slim.
Baptiste’s inconsistency late on in the season have destabilised his claim as first choice and potentially opened up an opportunity for one of the younger brigade.
Oscar Threlkeld did his chances no harm with two stellar performances against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City, while Hayden White also let no-one down when he was called upon in an emergency.
Many Whites fans hope that Joe Riley can return from long-term injury to pick up his once-promising career – but no player in Freedman’s squad can particularly lay claim to being the number one choice.
Interesting, then, that Lee Peltier has emerged as a possible transfer target – the Leeds United defender able to operate across the back four and offer the kind of versatility Freedman likes in his players.
While not as glamorous as his striker chase, the task of shoring up his full-back slots are arguably just as important for Freedman this season.
Whether he looks for new blood or within his existing options is the next question to be answered.