Postcard from Europe: Holden cautious of European dream
AMSTERDAM - Despite a fine first half of the season, injured midfield ace Stuart Holden said Bolton Wanderers have work to do before they can think about competing for a Europa League spot.
The Trotters have just a pair of recent UEFA Cup forays to their credit, but they turned heads in England by holding at fifth or sixth place in the EPL through November and December.
However, the Reebok crew has now gone winless in three league matches to fall to seventh, and they are in danger of losing touch with the European places race.
"We got off to a good start, but we haven't got the results that we wanted over the last couple of games," Holden told MLSsoccer.com over the weekend. "Now we have put ourselves in the position where we could be back in the middle of the pack again.
"Obviously, it is important that we focus again and we get back to doing what we were doing in the first half of the season, which was passing and playing for each other."
The former Houston Dynamo standout is not yet interested in counting chickens, as he knows there is still a long way to go in earning another UEFA invite.
"I think that it is important we don't get too carried away and we don't start thinking about things like Europe and we take it one match at a time," said Holden. "We have a big away match next weekend at Stoke, who are right on our heels."
Holden has been one of the Premier League revelations of the season and said his confidence grows week to week.
"I think with every game that we play, I become more comfortable," said Holden, who was recently named the EPL's best player of the season so far by Guardian readers.
"You adjust and you adapt to the speed of the game. Obviously, training in the environment that we do and training day in, day out with short sided games at a fast pace — it helps you adjust to the speed of play and I feel pretty up to speed now."
Holden gives much of the credit for his success and that of the team to boss Owen Coyle, whom he followed over from derby rivals Burnley. The manager switched jobs as the midfielder was set for a Turf Moor tria,l and the rest is an ongoing history.
"I think he is a great motivator," Holden said of Coyle. "He is a players' manager who is always encouraging you, on and off the field."
"He keeps a light-hearted mood in the dressing room, but at the same time, when you are on the pitch, he makes you want to go out there and enjoy your football and play for each other, and that is what we have been doing this season."
An ankle injury has seen Holden miss two league contests and this past weekend's FA Cup win over mites York, but he is hoping to be back for Saturday's Stoke trip.
"I picked up a bit of an injury during the Chelsea match, in the middle of all of our games during the Christmas period," Holden said. "But in terms of preparation you start to make sure that you are resting your body leading up to the games, and doing the little things off the pitch, like eating correctly and getting enough sleep so your body can handle it.
"Obviously, I picked up a bit of an unfortunate injury and I missed two of the [EPL] games, but I am hoping to be back soon and contributing."