FOR a few hours last Friday night Wanderers fans scratched their heads in bewilderment as last season’s first-choice right-back Alex Baptiste was moved on to Blackburn Rovers.
Despite his foibles, it still looked like a massive gamble to send the experienced defender who had featured 43 times last season out on loan, leaving no tried-and-trusted cover in a key position.
But then it all became clear. One phone call was all it took to set a transfer chain in motion and you could certainly argue Dougie Freedman will be pleased with the result.
The Wanderers boss had asked for first refusal on Kevin McNaughton last December when he sent the reliable Scot back to Cardiff City after a hugely successful loan spell.
He watched on in frustration as the 31-year-old not only regained his first-team spot in South Wales but was also rewarded with a one-year deal by new Bluebirds boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It was hard to begrudge McNaughton his moment in the Premier League sun, having worked so hard to get there, but Wanderers’ form after the turn of the year undoubtedly suffered as a result of shuffling their back four once again.
Baptiste – workmanlike and honest – did a decent job in difficult circumstances and there is no shortage of sympathy among the Whites supporters that he had to play out of position for most of the campaign.
In fact his final appearance, as a second-half sub in the 1-1 draw against Brondby less than a week ago, was on the left side.
By the defender’s own admission, his time at Bolton did not go according to plan.
“It went so well at Blackpool and everywhere else in my career I’ve done okay but for some reason it just didn’t work (at Bolton),” he said on his arrival at Ewood.
“Playing out of position a lot – I’m not a left back, I’ll openly admit that – but this is a fresh start and I’m really looking forward to it.”
But while there may have been reasons for Baptiste’s inconsistency, it would be hard to argue Freedman’s side did not look a lot more solid when McNaughton was around during October and November, as they slowly but surely put a nightmarish start to the season behind them.
Of the 13 games the Dundee-born defender played last term, only three ended in defeat.
McNaughton’s experience could also be good news for the two home-grown young players - Oscar Threlkeld and Joe Riley - pushing hard for a chance .
Threlkeld, who can play either side, made a dream start to life in the Championship with a couple of impressive appearances in April and May.
His physical development looks to have continued through the summer and after a couple of impressive pre-season displays, it would be a shame to see him slip back into the relative obscurity of development squad football. A loan spell may, in this case, be good for both parties.
Riley came through 90 minutes in the pre-season friendly against Vestsjaelland unscathed, albeit with a sore nose after an errant first-half elbow caught him square in the face.
Freedman has preached the need to manage the 22-year-old’s recovery very carefully and it may be that a spell on loan could also be the next step for the Boothstown-based youngster.