Bolton Wanderers are finally shaping up, says manager Dougie Freedman
IT may have taken longer than he would have liked, but manager Dougie Freedman believes he has finally got Wanderers playing in the style he wants.
Tuesday’s 2-1 victory at Doncaster was a sixth win in the last 11 Championship matches – a run that includes one solitary defeat at home to Brighton.
And that game at the Keepmoat Stadium epitomised Freedman’s current philosophy perfectly.
Wanderers started on the front foot attacking at will, switched to protect their lead and then adapted again to wrestle back control of the match to see out the win.
Freedman believes his side now have that Championship knowhow they were missing at the start of the season.
He said: “When I look back a year, although we are in a different position, I like what I am seeing now because I know we can go and control games.
“We can express ourselves and that comes with a change in personnel.
“It has taken me a long time to get playing the way I want to.
“Last year we had certain personnel and had to work to play a certain way with them.
“I think we have had balance in the last dozen or so games. We have a bit more running in us and can mix it a bit more physically now.
“The Championship throws all sorts at you and you need to be more physical at times. You have to match that.
“This year has been very frustrating with a transition on the field because we need to pass the ball through midfield, through the Medos and Spearings.
“It might not give you chance after chance but it is a more attacking and attractive way of playing and we have seen glimpses of it like at Leeds and against Blackburn at home.
“We can certainly pass and score goals.”
The style of playing with just one orthodox striker is not universally liked, with some dissenting voices amongst the Whites faithful.
When Freedman opted to withdraw goalscorer Joe Mason in favour of the more defensive Liam Trotter on Tuesday, there were some boos and chants of “4-4-2” from the 700-strong away following.
The boss acknowledges the fans’ desire to play with two up top but insists he will do whatever suits each game to get his team accustomed to winning consistently at Championship level.
Freedman added: “I know the fans want to see us play with two strikers and I want that as well.
“But I don’t want us to bash it up there with two strikers.
“I felt we needed to get more control of the game (at Doncaster) with 15-20 minutes to go and the change did that.
“There are reasons why I make changes and I like to think I know what I am doing at Championship level and how to win in this league.
“We are a Championship club at present and we have to compete to win games at this level to become a Premier League team again.
“I’m not critical of any football fan because I am one myself.
“But you get Twitter and things these days with people saying we should be doing this and that or ‘Who’s Jutkiewicz? he has only scored once this season’ – then people are singing his name.
“I get all that – I don’t have a problem with that.
“The simple fact is that we need to win games in this division and we need to play a certain way at certain times to do that and I am not embarrassed to admit that.
“On Saturday at Huddersfield we were asked a question of being resilient and going to the end and we did that and won.
“Then we played a little bit of a different shape at the beginning at Doncaster and really caused them big problems and won there as well.
“The start was so good and that was what won us the game.
“For the next 35 minutes I was very disappointed how we didn’t get a hold of the game so I had to change it a little bit to make sure we had more control.
“Ten minutes into the second half I felt we needed to go back to a more conventional 4-4-2 and then that didn’t work either because we were a bit too deep.
“What pleases me is that I have options on the bench to change things and that wasn’t there for me last season.
“We are approaching games in the right manner and have the right personnel to hurt teams away from home now.
“I want to finish with a few wins at home as well and make the crowd understand we can win at the Reebok as well as on the road.”