Against The Odds, Bolton Might Yet Make The Top 6
Bolton’s season, much like the Championship as a whole, has been a tad erratic, Lion of Vienna Suite‘s Mark Yesilevskiy writes…
A slow start; inconsistency; away woes; points dropped from winning positions; and runs of form have defined the Trotters in 2012-13. All told, it’s been a season of phases.
With Owen Coyle in situ, it never looked like Bolton would recover from last season’s relegation. Sporadic wins might have been treated like new dawns under a different manager, but such hope never really emerged under Coyle. One road win in five coupled with only two victories from the same number of home games saw Bolton languish near the Championship’s bottom three for far too long and Wanderers were low-scoring, poor at the back and struggling to grind out results.
When the board finally made the decision to let Coyle go, it allowed Jimmy Phillips to step in as caretaker for three matches with Sammy Lee and Julian Darby at his side. All three knew the club well and had been long-serving players and staff members. The goals came as Wanderers managed to chalk up six in those three games but, with the defence still leaking in as many, the trio were relieved of their caretaker duties and resumed their original academy and U21 roles following Dougie Freedman’s appointment.
Bolton immediately gained composure under Freedman. It had become clear that during Coyle’s regime training had been largely about having fun with the lads rather than working on fitness and developing gameplans. Two-a-day sessions, sports science, and a sharper focus on tactics have since become Freedman trademarks and results have generally reflected that. Immediately following Freedman’s appointment, Bolton beat Cardiff and held fellow highfliers Leicester to a scoreless draw, both of which formed part of a six match unbeaten run.
Bolton went on to pick up a number of draws in the following weeks with a few wins and a few losses thrown in for good measure. That was very much the way it went until the signing of Craig Dawson.
The England U21 and West Bromwich Albion defender moved to Bolton a week before the end of the January transfer window but it took almost three weeks for him to finally get his chance in a Bolton shirt. Dawson went the full 90 minutes against Burnley on 9 February and his influence was felt immediately, his presence providing a calming force for the defence. Starting with that game against the Clarets, Wanderers would go on an eight-match unbeaten run, picking up six wins (five of which came in a row). Dawson played vital roles in all of them, especially so against Hull, Peterborough, and Barnsley, games which yielded a return of four goal for Dawson.
The unbeaten run came to an end against Ipswich Town last weekend but everything up to and including that match has demonstrated that the Trotters are able to compete for promotion in this division. Freedman has the team well drilled, particularly at the back, and his signings have been smart in the main. It finally feels as though Bolton Wanderers are beginning to fulfil their potential.
As for where the club will be this summer, that remains to be seen. There are no clear indications as yet whether Wanderers will sneak into the play-off races and the run-in isn’t exactly easy with Cardiff, Leicester and Middlesbrough still to play. Another year in the Championship wouldn’t be the worst thing, however, especially if the squad continues to progress as it’s done over the last two months.
That said, a stay outside the upper echelon could prove dangerous for Bolton. The club’s debt was highly publicized (£136 million with £125 million of that owed to the owner) and while parachute payments are helping to stave off disaster, they are no match for the TV rights money that the top flight promises. Bolton’s financial situation isn’t great but it also is not the end of the world for the club. The money is not owed to banks, creditors, or the government and thus buys Wanderers time. The club has not been able to spend like it did in the Gary Megson years but, for now, Dougie Freedman’s eye for talent and his expanded scouting network is helping to combat that.