DOUGIE Freedman prepares to kick-off a new season at Watford tomorrow believing Wanderers are better prepared for success in the Championship than at any other stage since leaving the Premier League.
Around 1,200 fans will make the trip to Vicarage Road as the Whites take the first step in an arduous 46-game season.
Mark Davies is the only significant doubt for Freedman as he looks for a repeat of last season’s narrow 1-0 win in Hertfordshire.
That victory was a rare highlight in the club’s worst league campaign in two decades – but this time around, the manager is confident expectation levels on and off the pitch are now in tune for the first time since he took charge.
Freedman admits he had to “mask” some of the dressing room issues that contributed to last season’s underachievement but is satisfied the side he leads into battle tomorrow will be a much more united force and believes the fans have a greater understanding of the club’s situation.
“I think fans have changed their mindsets from 'we should go back up' to ‘if we work hard and get behind each other, we have a good chance,” he told The Bolton News.
“We need them. But I think the expectation mark in the players, the board, the fans and myself is now very close indeed.
“I have had to mask certain things. I couldn’t sit here 18 months ago and go round the dressing room picking out players who didn’t want to be here. I had to play them on a Saturday.
“That’s not me lying. That is me having to manage a very difficult situation.
“We had to go with players who’d been wanting to get out for a year. And they didn’t go because there were no takers.
“Those players are no longer with us. And I’d like to add that not every one of the players who has left was a problem – I was sorry to see one or two of them go.
“We are now in a completely different place and the fans’, the club’s and the players’ expectations match each other.”
Freedman has got cause for concern over key midfielder Davies but said he will make a final decision on his fitness today.
The 26-year-old picked up a minor fracture in his toe very early in pre-season and has since been managing the injury with painkilling injections.
“Mark Davies is going to be 60-40 against to play against Watford. He’s got this toe problem and it keeps swelling up,” he added.
“It’s not a problem when he’s walking around in flip-flops but once the boots go on, it’s too tight.
“I rested him in last week’s game at Port Vale to give him every chance and now we’ll try to give him that last little bit.
“We’ll make the decision of Friday whether he can play or not.”