Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman makes a strong case for the defence

Dougie Freedman has been delighted with the recent form of his defence

Dougie Freedman has been delighted with the recent form of his defence

First published in Sport This Is Lancashire: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

AFTER all the thrills and spills of the last few weeks at Wanderers, a dour point at Derby County brought everyone back down to earth – but Dougie Freedman saw no reason to be downbeat.

Tuesday night’s gritty stalemate was right up the manager’s street, and while he admitted it was nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the wins over Watford, Blackburn or Leeds, it was no less important in his eyes.

And perhaps he is right to hail a result that has become something of a rarity in recent years.

Since the start of the 2010/11 season, Wanderers have registered just seven goalless draws, four of which have come in his tenure.

This one came against a normally free-scoring team sitting third in the table, and with a squad that had been decimated by a number of late illnesses.

Freedman was forced to abandon his two-man attack at the iPro Stadium with Joe Mason suffering from a virus that left the young striker unable to even warm-up during the game.

Jermaine Beckford remains unavailable for selection despite recovering from a hamstring injury – with the Scot adding bitingly after the game that his summer signing now needs to “keep on running and keep on getting fit”.

Matt Mills (knee), Darren Pratley (shoulder), Chris Eagles (eye infection) and Andy Lonergan (ear infection) were also unavailable, while in-form David Wheater was rested.

The point was also earned with a back four that had never played together – Alan Hutton coming in for his debut, alongside Tim Ream, Zat Knight and the ultra-versatile Alex Baptiste.

“I was really pleased with that aspect on the night,” Freedman said of his new-look back four. “Alan Hutton’s a very experienced player but we brought him here to play.

“Alex Baptiste has been fantastic for us, and he kept a very good player (Jamie Ward) quiet at Derby.

“We do work hard in training – it’s not just thrown together – but when you have got that protection behind them with Adam (Bogdan) and then in front of them with Jay Spearing and Medo, it doesn’t half make your job easier.

“Zat Knight was superb and headed everything that came into the box. Without getting too much into tactics, we had to give up a little bit of ball out wide and Steve McClaren, being a clever manager, spotted that right away. But when the ball came in we were reasonably comfortable.

“I think we were also helped by the fact we’ve got a keeper who kept his concentration.

“Adam has got a different back four in front of him but I think he’s comfortable with how the team is playing.”

Freedman hailed Derby as the “best attacking side” Wanderers have faced this season, grand praise indeed considering the battering they took at Reading or Leicester City.

And he believes the team that entered into 2014 would not have been able to cope with the pressure exerted by the Rams in midweek.

“I think there were one or two different personnel back then, and I don’t think we would have seen a result like that,” he said.

“I’m not trying to be a clever-clogs but we can now match teams with what they are going to do.

“Derby was a very physical game but we’ve got the personnel to cope, and we did.

“Not all games can be like the last couple where we’ve scored all the goals, sometimes we’ve got to knuckle down and the lads have shown fantastic energy and concentration.

“That’s what you have got to do in the Championship – pick up points here and there and when you’re on a run, win your home games.

“We go back to the Reebok against Brighton on Saturday where I think performances have improved this last couple of months, and now the results are following that.

“We go there for the next four out of five games and that’s important.”

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