The return of Stuart Holden can reverse Bolton’s fortunes
Stuart Holden made his long awaited return from injury in Bolton's 2-0 win at Aston Villa in the Carling Cup, playing the full 90 minutes, having missed the previous six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. “Considering Stuart has been out for so long after a horrendous injury, for him to play with such intensity and at the level he did tonight was great,” Bolton manager Owen Coyle said after the game. “I’ve always said we are a better team with him in it, not just because of his work rate but also the quality he brings when on the ball,” added Coyle. Judging by Bolton's results in his absence, that is a huge understatement.
Holden sustained his injury at Old Trafford on March 19th in a 1-0 defeat. Bolton were 7th in the Premier League at the time with eight games remaining, and lost their next game at Birmingham before a comfortable 3-0 home win over West Ham. Humiliation in their FA Cup semi final with Stoke followed, going down 5-0, but Bolton showed tremendous character in bouncing back from that demoralising defeat by beating Arsenal in their next league outing. It was all downhill from there with defeats against Fulham, Blackburn, Sunderland, Blackpool and Manchester City rounding off the campaign, accompanied by a 14th place finish. A suitable measure of Holden's influence and impact is the fact that he was awarded Bolton's Player of the Year award, despite missing the last two months of the season.
Bolton began the new campaign in fine fettle, thrashing newly promoted QPR 4-0 at Loftus Road on the opening day of the season, before embarking on a harsh run of fixtures. A respectable 3-2 home defeat against Manchester City preceded a 3-1 defeat at Anfield, another 5-0 drubbing at the hands of a rampant Manchester United. A timid performance followed in losing 2-1 at home to Norwich.
Pressure appears to be building with critics keen to point out that Bolton have recorded 11 defeats in the 15 games since their Wembley horror show, suggesting that Coyle's position may be under threat and that they have become a soft touch. This train of thought neglects to acknowledge the strides Bolton have made under his stewardship, instilling a new ethos and a more progressive style of play, while also overlooking his shrewd forays in the transfer market. It also fails to factor in the importance of Holden, Bolton's primary creative force in midfield, who has become integral to the side in his 31 appearances to date.
Holden was not deemed fit enough for the Bolton squad that travelled to the Emirates on Saturday, where Arsenal recorded a 3-0 win, a result that leaves the Trotters rooted to the foot of the table. With Chelsea up next, things may yet get worse before they get better. Fortunately a kinder run of games are approaching, that includes Wigan, Sunderland, Swansea, Stoke and West Brom. A more reasonable set of fixtures, coinciding with the return to fitness of Stuart Holden, should result in Bolton garnering enough points to more accurately reflect their true standing in the Premier League.
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