Club Focus – Bolton Wanderers – Coyle mixes aggression with flair as Elmander comes good

As we reported in last week’s club focus, Owen Coyle announced his intentions to keep his faith with the misfiring Johan Elmander in the hope that he would be able to live up to his £8.2m price tag. Two goals later for the Swede, and his career as a record signing may as well start now.

The lack of transfer activity has worried a few at the Reebok Stadium, leaving others bemused as to why there haven’t been more new faces added. Strong reports suggested that the Scot had switched to the Trotters because of budget squabbles at Burnley, but even the seemingly inevitable raid of Coyle’s former favourites at Turf Moor was scaled down in the form of just one asset; an ageing Robbie Blake. The main rumours were surrounding the need for a ‘goalscorer’ in the line-up to play alongside Kevin Davies. To free up funds there was an assumption that Elmander would be departing to make way for the new man, but Coyle dismissed the speculation by backing the striker to become the player everyone thought he could be. Throughout pre-season the boss remained defiant that he had the men and all the strikers he wanted, and following a 1-3 win at West Ham with a bottle of champagne for Elmander, it seems he was right all along. Bolton’s man of the match on Saturday scored twice in the second half, with one on the 86th minute to seal the game and cap off a wonderful performance. Although it took them a while to get into the game- needing Jussi Jaaskelainen to save Carlton Cole’s first half penalty to avoid going one down-the visitors started to get a grip on proceedings towards the end of the first period, and following a half-time team talk from Coyle, the Hammers were soon bullied out of the game.

What has carried last season’s relegation candidates to a place in the top four at the weekend has seemingly been a mixture of both the old and new Bolton. The first 45 minutes saw a predictable flourish of spirited attacks made by West Ham in the hopes of scoring an early goal. Following their 3-0 away loss to managerless Aston Villa, Avram Grant saw logic in fielding two strikers instead of the one played in their defeat. The prospect of a lively Upton Park backing their team to go forward and collect their first points of the 2010/11 campaign was indeed a nice prospect, and Bolton had to resort to playing like the side football fans are familiar with- playing behind the ball, and waiting to pounce. They needed a bit of luck with the tame penalty, as well as Matthew Upson’s diving header opening their scoring account for them. But the attempt at a clearance was a last resort for the England man, with Kevin Davies preparing to fire home. The goal transformed Wanderer’s into the team known under Coyle by using short passing and wing play to slowly force the home side into defending against their will. Elmander was passionate up front and muscled out both Upson and his partner Danny Gabbidon in the air as well as holding the ball up to play Martin Petrov into the game. Petrov’s influence as the marauding attacking midfielder also seems to be working well with the new tactics, and has seemingly filled in the hole Jack Wilshere left after his loan expired. Stuart Holden seems to be tracking back well to assist defensive midfielder Fabrice Muamba, and the Trotters look in a good way leading in to their two games this week. First is a lengthy travel to Southampton for the Carling Cup, and there will be high hopes for the Trotters bearing in mind Saints poor league form. Sunday then brings a home game against Birmingham. Both sides have shown promise in their start, and as they go into the game level on points, the clash could give an early indication as to who could be in the top half come the end of the season.

As well as praise for a resurrected Elmander, Coyle came out with more kind words for his front-line. Playing the role of the mid-table boss looking for one of his players to get an England call-up, he highlighted the qualities Kevin Davies could bring to Fabio Capello’s squad: “When I look at the outstanding forwards England have had, particularly the quick ones and the good finishers, they would have benefited from playing alongside Kevin Davies when you think of the knock-downs he could have provided.” With David Beckham facing the cut at 35, there seemingly isn’t much hope for the former Blackburn man at 33. But nobody is daring to question Coyle at the moment, and will continue not to if the Trotters can pick up another couple of wins this week.

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