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Dan Murphy writes a detailed scout report about Bolton Wanderer’s young defender, Rob Holding.
Anyone who even has the most passive of interests in the Championships will probably be aware of the plight of Bolton Wanderers this season. It’s been a shambling crawl through mud and glass of a season, trudging from one disaster to the other. Four dates in court, a want away owner, staff and players not being paid, the death of the chairman, transfer embargo, a legend finally retiring and genuinely being on the edge of liquidation. Bolton Wanderers came within an inch of no longer existing.
And all that’s just off the pitch, everything on it hasn’t been any prettier. Four wins all season, not a single one away, turgid football, most players not putting any effort or fight in and just an all round awful lack of quality. It is quite hard to think of a single positive note, a single highlight of this god awful season.
But there is one.
That is the emergence of young defender Rob Holding who has come into the first team nearly out of nowhere to shine like a diamond amongst the dirt. It says something, after the season the Whites have had, the large majority of supporters think a defender, and one who has only played half the season at that, has been our best player this year and that is testament to just how good Holding has been.
The Tameside born centre back first joined Bolton at the tender age of seven and has risen through the youth team ranks to establish himself as a first team regular this season. It looked as if his time was up at the Macron Stadium last season after a loan spell at League One side Bury only yielded one appearance. An ankle injury while at the Shakers cut his season short and it appeared as though he’d be let go of by the club in the summer.
However, he remained in Bolton and actually found himself starting for the first team in the third game of the season. It was quite a baptism of fire for the then 19-year old who played on the right side of a three-man defence. It was a position he had never played before and one that Bolton have rarely looked comfortable in. A Diego Fabrini and Stewart Downing inspired Middlesbrough tore Wanderers apart with in the opening minutes and were 3-0 up by half time.
Bizarrely, despite his young age, lack of experience and being played in an unfamiliar system, Holding copped a lot of the flack from fans and seemingly management for the display and wasn’t seen again until four months later. Under the stewardship of Neil Lennon, Bolton always had an issue at right back and, even though two were signed in the summer, there still ended up being a lack of them by December. Holding came back into the side to cover there when the Trotters faced Hull City and, even though he was once again being played out of position, Holding excelled.
He put in a string of solid performances at right back, earning deserved plaudits from supporters and the manager, and when injury struck David Wheater, Holding was able to step into his natural position and solidify himself as Bolton’s first choice centre back.
He’s been an ever present presence in the side ever since and, somehow, always seems to impress with a calm composure of someone way beyond his years and a tendency to not make mistakes and to just be a really good defender, even in a defence that has conceded over 50 goals since he came into the side.
I may be in danger of over-hyping him somewhat, but I believe Holding’s greatest asset is the sheer number of assets he already has at his disposal, even after only making just shy of 30 professional appearances in the game. When I watch Holding I see so many different aspects of brilliant Bolton defenders of years gone by.
He carries himself with the air and leads the backline like Gudni Bergsson used to do. I recall in Holding’s first game at centre back for the Whites he was constantly talking to, directing and then consoling his much more senior centre back partner. He reminds me of Gary Cahill with how calm and composed he is on the ball. You could very much consider Holding a ball playing centre back but, unlike someone like John Stones, he never takes unnecessary risks, he doesn’t “mess about” with the ball. If he does something with the ball he does it for a reason. If it’s running out with it from defence, a cool pass to the midfielder, putting it into row Z or even pulling off a piece of skill in his own box. Everything he does feels calculated in order to benefit the team.
Elsewhere he is strong and well timed in the tackle like Bruno N’Gotty and can dominate in the air like Abdoulaye Faye, not to mention he’s quite quick for a centre half, too. Also, even though the other end of the pitch doesn’t really matter when talking about defenders, he has proven to be a nuisance in the opposition box, always looking threatening and even scoring on one occasion.
As I said, this may come across as hyperbole, but I don’t think Holding is as good as any of these other defenders yet, he still has some learning to do, but he does seem to possess plenty of positive traits.
On the side of the game he can improve, well, I think his biggest flaw at this point is that if an attacking player does manage to get in behind him than Holding isn’t the best, at this moment in time, at recovering. So many goals Bolton have conceded this year always seems to end with Holding, and the rest of the defence in fairness, running backwards to the goal and trying to catch up with the racing striker. This was typified against Reading in April when Holding gave away a penalty and got sent off for bringing down Matej Vydra as he was through on goal. Replays suggest he may have gotten the ball but it was certainly a close call and it looked like a straight red in real time. Holding should have been smarter and not give the referee a decision to make.
Holding just needs to keep gradually improving, in every facet of his game. He has all the components, he just needs to keep working and tuning them and it will soon all come together and he’ll be a top level defender.
So Bolton Wanderers are already relegated to League One but despite their abysmal season Holding’s rise to prominence and talent has not gone unnoticed. His contract expires at the end of the season and a line of suitors is already beginning to materialise.
However, there is a clause in Holding’s contract that the club can invoke which will extend the 20-year old’s deal. The new Bolton owner and chief executive, Dean Holdsworth, recently said that he is “comfortable” with Holding’s situation and it looks as if, unless a stupid offer comes in, he could be staying with Wanderers as they embark on next season’s League One tour.
Holdsworth also went on to say: “He is a great prospect. It doesn’t surprise me that other clubs are interested in him. I’ve said before that in the next four or five years he could be a captain at Bolton Wanderers. He has got a lot going for him.”
At this stage in his career staying at Bolton may well be the best thing for Holding, too. He is a guaranteed starter at 20, may well actually be in a winning team next year (probably not, but I can dream) and, as Holdsworth and a number of fans have said, he looks destined to be a Wanderers captain one day. Some have even said they want him to don the arm band next season.
However, if Holding was to move on to better club in the summer then I don’t believe any Bolton supporter would begrudge him of the move as he is a talent far beyond the level of the third division. If he keeps himself grounded and continues to work hard, which I am certain he will, you’ll be hearing a lot more of Rob Holding very, very soon.
Written by Dan Murphy