• Veteran striker has started only two of past nine matches
• Darren Pratley relishes goal against former employer
Bolton Wanderers have announced plans to erect a statue of the late Nat Lofthouse outside the Reebok Stadium, but another of their totemic target men is appearing increasingly unloved. Famously abrasive but deceptively skilful, Kevin Davies may have personified the club in the Premier League era but he has become a marginal figure of late. While Bolton's fortunes have improved, the 34-year-old, who is out of contract in the summer, has been downgraded. His only starts in the past nine games have come against Macclesfield Town, prompting an informal inquiry from Sunderland last week.
It was rebuffed and Davies's manager is adamant the club captain will remain at the Reebok Stadium when the transfer window closes. "Kevin Davies at the top of his form was always the first name on my teamsheet and that will be the case again," said Owen Coyle. "He has still got a huge role to play."
Yet that role may be as a replacement. Swansea City were the fourth Premier League side beaten by a recalibrated Bolton side. While the more mobile David Ngog is alone in attack, there is a greater emphasis on the inventive Chris Eagles and Mark Davies and an overdue recognition that a porous defence needed more rigorous protection. "There is a solidity about us," said Coyle. "We look dangerous on the counterattack and we have pace."
As Bolton's game has evolved, the talisman risks becoming yesterday's man. An unusually youthful side prospered – Sam Ricketts and Martin Petrov were the only starters aged over 27 – and a transition to a younger generation ranks high on Coyle's task list. "When I came in, it was an old squad at the time and it is two years older [now]," he said. Targets include emerging the wingers Matt Phillips of Blackpool, and Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, and Coyle's transfer policy, he insists, will be dictated by the next few years, rather than the remaining four months of the season. Precarious as Bolton's position is, and precipitous as a drop into the Championship would be, he is looking long term, risking relegation in a bid for self‑sufficiency.
"I can understand why managers think short term: self preservation, look after your job and all that," he added. "Regardless of who follows me, they'll inherit a better club than I did. We're trying to plan for years to come. [The owner] Eddie [Davies] has invested over £100m but there will probably be a point where the club has to run under its own steam."
Swansea, whose fans have a 20% stake in the club, have progressed admirably without a benefactor. The manager, Brendan Rodgers, calmly accepted he has little to spend over the next 48 hours and justified his wholesale rotation policy by saying their focus must remain on the Premier Lleague. "I don't think we are a group that is good enough yet to take our feet off the pedal," he said.
Fringe players, the goalscorer Luke Moore in particular, took the chance to impress. So did a former Swan. Darren Pratley's catalytic contribution included Bolton's equaliser, the midfielder then raising a hand apologetically to the travelling fans, despite Swansea supporters' vocal assertions that he left for the money.
Nor was it the first time they had criticised him. "I had a little bit of stick when I first went there for keeping the ball and passing sideways – they said it was backwards – and now that's a big part of the way Swansea play," said Pratley. "They're the best footballing side in the league." The purists' praise has eluded Bolton in Kevin Davies's time but the veteran pragmatist may be Coyle's Plan B in the relegation run-in.