THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Bolton v QPR, 12.15pm

icon boltonvqpr24 August ~ Bolton Wanderers last hosted Queens Park Rangers towards the end of a 2011-12 Premier League season. On that day the home team won 2-1 to leapfrog their opponents out of the relegation zone. Ultimately, though, Bolton ended up relegated. A year later, their visitors joined them in the Championship having again failed to find a level of performance to match their expenditure. Though these falls from grace are separated by just 12 months, the difference between the two clubs' current squads is startling.

With just over a week of the transfer window to run, Rangers can still boast the current Brazil goalkeeper and seven England internationals with more than 80 caps between them. In contrast, Bolton are already starting to look like seasoned second-tier campaigners.

Manager Dougie Freedman has spoken regularly this summer about the constraints of a one-in-one-out policy and, while he has gone some way to strengthening a team that only missed last season's play-offs on goal difference, there remains a nagging suspicion that squad evolution isn't happening quickly enough.

Bolton's season has started slowly, with two 1-1 draws preceding a sobering 3-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest. Already there is cause for concern: the preferred central defensive pairing of Zat Knight and David Wheater lacks both pace and serious competition, while the midfield is heavily reliant on Chris Eagles (missing since the opening day) for its creative spark. With new signings André Moritz and Jermaine Beckford still short of match fitness after uncertain pre-seasons, and David Ngog feeling the effects of a suspicious transfer-window illness, it's difficult to see where goals are going to come from.
 
QPR, meanwhile, have started well, with two wins and draw from a game they dominated at Huddersfield putting them up with the early pacesetters. Harry Redknapp has cleared out some high-earning underachievers and replaced them astutely, if a little more modestly than to which he is accustomed: Gary O'Neil, Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson look solid free transfers, while Karl Henry and Charlie Austin represent top Championship quality.

With Joey Barton's unexpected return from France bolstering an already impressive roster, it isn't fanciful to suggest that this Rangers squad might have made a better stab at Premier League survival than the one that was relegated last May. Certainly, it looks stronger than the one comfortably promoted under Neil Warnock in 2011.

Rangers have only won once in Bolton since 1980 and Wanderers haven't lost a league game at the Reebok in 2013, but the home team will need to show a marked improvement if those runs are to remain intact. Freedman doesn't really have the players at his disposal to spring selection surprises, so much will depend on whether or not Eagles and Ngog are fit to start. 

QPR had enough in midfield to leave O'Neil and Jermaine Jenas on the bench at Ipswich last week, so the performances of Jay Spearing and Medo Kamara will be crucial. Rangers miss the in-form Junior Hoilett through injury but Austin, Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora will carry more than enough threat between them to trouble Bolton's beleaguered defence.

An imminent £5 million deal for Blackpool winger Matt Phillips is unlikely to spell the end of Redknapp's transfer activity this summer but, whatever the comings and goings at Loftus Road between now and a week on Tuesday, his team give the impression that they will not be long out of the Premier League. The future looks a little less clear at the Reebok, though if Bolton fans didn't learn the importance of patience last season, they probably never will. Jon Callow

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