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Monday, 15 April 2013

TheView Outside The Premier League: Bolton stay on Target but its a bad weekend For Leicester and Torquay


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Sqf hugh larkin
 

Bolton Wanderers have now completed their unlikely rise from 18th in the Championship table to a play-off berth. While teams like Middlesbrough and Leicester have faltered badly on the run-in, the Trotters have accelerated smoothly to the top six.

Dougie Freedman is a manager who embodies old-fashioned virtues. Like his fellow Scot Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest he gives off a hard edge and will to win that seems to transmit itself to players. Whether the squad are inspired by it or slightly scared is a moot point - the approach works.

Freedman will be the first to admit that he has some quality to work with - why else did he leave Crystal Palace to take over at the Reebok? There's now the intriuiging prospect that he may be locking horns with his former club for a shot at the Premier League.

The biggest change since Owen Coyle's departure has been at the back. Bolton always had the potential to score goals at Championship level but had become bedeviled by sloppy defending, especially on crosses. Five clean sheets in the last 10 games is a marked improvement, although there is still much work to be done.

On the plus side the Trotters have only failed to score once in their last 14 matches. The skills are there to unlock defences, but Bolton's next three matches are real tests of their pedigree. First they can knock Leicester out of the contest for a play-off berth and then end any lingering hopes for Middlesborough.

Then it's a trip to champions-elect Cardiff City. Freedman might be hoping that Malky Mackay's team already have the title and promotion in the bag by then.

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Sometimes there can be a real negative to being located at the extreme edge of the football community. Torquay United were all set to host a League Two relegation six-pointer with Barnet on Saturday, when the wet weather conspired to force a postponement.

Inevitably, the rest of the League programme went ahead and Gulls fans had to watch the results come in and drop their team into the relegation places. In recent seasons the Gulls have been more used to scrapping from promotion than flirting with danger. York City's win at Northampton was a particular blow.

When the Gulls beat York on March 23 it was relief all round down on the South Coast - two successive wins appeared to put the Gulls in a relative safety but now three losses on the bounce and Saturday's postponement has put them right back in the mire. On Friday night Accrington Stanley bagged a vital three points which also added to the gloom.

There's been a history over the past few seasons of sides slipping unexpectedly into the Conference after one bad season. Torquay have just three games left to make sure they aren't the latest to suffer that fate.

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Friday night was unkind to Leicester City as well. The Foxes appeared to have a vital three points against Birmigham City sewn up but a last minute rush of blood by David Nugent delivered a penalty to the Second City side and Chris Burke took full advantage.

It's all a bit of nightmare for Leicester fans who saw their promotion hopes unravel in the final third of last season. It's now no wins from their last nine games and teams like Bolton and Nottingham Forest have gone past them; Leicester are languishing in eighth position and face a must-win game with Bolton on Tuesday.

It's too late to make any changes in the dugout but it's fair to say that if the Foxes don't finish in the play-off places, Nigel Pearson's time at the King Power will be up.

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Mansfield Town lost their hold on top spot in the Conference  after they went down to a surprise loss at Braintree. It means Kidderminster's dogged effort to deny the Stags goes on. They now lead the table by a point, but Mansfield have a game in hand.

If the Stags win both their remaining two games then they are back in the Football League, but what seemed to be a serene progress to the title has just become decidedly more nerve-wracking.

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