By Tony Leighton
Bolton Wanderers' stuttering season has taken a late upturn, but after a largely disappointing Sky Bet Championship campaign the Trotters look extremely unlikely to justify their pre-season standing as one of the promotion favourites.
After a great run in the final third of the 2012/13 campaign left them agonisingly short of the Play-Off places on goal difference, manager Dougie Freedman told football-league.co.uk at the start of this season: "We should be aiming for the top six."
Instead of the top six it was the bottom three that Wanderers were most concerned with in the first half of the campaign. A poor start saw them take 11 games to record a maiden victory as they found themselves stuck in the drop zone.
A good recovery followed, but then a nine-match winless run dropped them back into trouble before they regained their form - even though the match that stopped the rot, a 1-1 draw at Millwall, ended with the Lions' manager Ian Holloway saying that Freedman's team had made him "bored senseless."
There was nothing boring about Bolton's next three games, all of them won; 2-0 at home to Watford, a 4-0 local derby thumping of Blackburn Rovers and an even more emphatic 5-1 away hammering of promotion hopefuls Leeds United last Saturday.
The Trotters then had to settle for a goalless draw at Derby County on Tuesday evening, but with the Rams laying third in the table and looking certainties to finish in at least the Play-Offs, it was a satisfying enough result for Freedman.
"We got a very good point, a point we should be proud of," said Freedman after the game.
"Three months ago this wouldn't have happened to us. Derby gave a great attacking display but we showed resilience in our defending. I'm proud of the point because it's a point we wouldn't have got earlier in the season."
The result left Bolton 16th in the table, 11 points above the relegation zone but 15 points below the Play-Off places to which they aspired at the start of the season.
A late dart for the top six looks beyond them, but Freedman will push his players to the limits in a bid to do exactly that.
"We'll work hard every day, and in every game we want to be competitive," said the 39-year-old manager.
"We're playing very well right now and I don't think you can fault our effort. So we won't be 'drifting along, singing a song,' however that song goes. We'll be working very hard to make sure we finish in a very strong position."
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