Wanderers wide boys take a back seat

First published in Sport The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

OWEN Coyle breezed into the Reebok nearly three years ago with the promise of bringing back the wide men, who had characterised his own playing career at Wanderers.

Back in the Burnden Park days, it had been the constant service of David Lee and Alan Thompson who had supplied the ammunition for Coyle, John McGinlay and Co, but up to the Glaswegian’s second stint at the club, it had been some time since the traditional winger had trod the touchlines in front of the Whites fans.

Sam Allardyce’s brand of football had not particularly lent itself to the 4-4-2 system, which at that stage was hardly being used at all around the Premier League.

But Coyle very quickly made his intentions clear – bringing in flyers like Martin Petrov, Rodrigo, Vladimir Weiss and Gael Kakuta with the intention of recreating the kind of attack-minded football seen in his own playing days at Bolton.

Somewhere along the line, however, that attacking instinct has had to be curbed.

In last season’s ill-fated Premier League campaign, the 4-4-2 was sacrificed around December for a more solid midfield, and this year in the Championship, wingers have recently been abandoned altogether with Mark Davies and Chris Eagles playing in the wider positions.

The decision was made to allow Wanderers to dictate possession in the middle of the park, as both players are able to cut inside and link up with the front men.

At Sheffield Wednesday we saw the plan work perfectly, as we did for brief spells against Crystal Palace, Leeds and Millwall.

But at The Den we also saw the downside. Congestion in the middle and a lack of width led to players getting on top of each other.

Jay Spearing, whose role is to pick the ball up from the back four and go from there, was becoming especially frustrated by the lack of options, while Keith Andrews also seemed to suffer.

On the occasions they did get in behind the Millwall back four, it was often when David Ngog or Kevin Davies had pulled wide, or Tyrone Mears had found his way through on the overlap.

Things only improved in the second half when Eagles and Davies both widened the game and Coyle then opted to push his captain out to the right side.

It is food for thought for the Wanderers boss, who desperately needs to find a remedy for his side’s inconsistency before it is too late.

Had Eagles converted his penalty, the tactical analysis might have been a moot point.

With Wanderers on top, and the former Manchester United man in rude form, the glaring miss robbed Coyle’s side of their momentum and also seemed to knock the midfielder off his stride too.

But he is by no means alone in fluffing his lines from 12 yards – the Whites have only managed to score 100 per cent of their penalties twice in the last 10 seasons.

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