Some thing’s in football are a little baffling and difficult to work out, I have started to look at everything in a very Columbo type of way, analysing what has happened and before I know it I am pacing around, smoking a cigar, trying to work out various mystery’s. Bolton Wanderers are one of the mysteries for me so far this season. This should be a season where they are building and improving on previous finishes, but it seems like they are going backwards.
After finishing 14th twice and 13th once in the last three seasons, Bolton find themselves staring a relegation dog-fight in the face. The way Bolton have started this year suggests they are little more than Premier League cannon fodder, especially for the big boys.
Don’t get me wrong, Bolton have never been world-beaters or guaranteed top-half finishers, but they have been a team that are strong, hard working and are generally a tough outfit to beat and things looked to be heading in the right direction for the club under the leadership of Owen Coyle.
For me they are a little like Charlton used to be; close to turning the corner and becoming a consistent side, but before you know it they are all over the place. Under Owen Coyle, the team and supporters seem to have been galvanised as he looked like a man to lead them forward and change them in to a regular top half team.
As it stands, Bolton couldn’t be further away from a top-half finish if they tried. This season they have struggled against the top sides, suffering some heavy defeats; 3-1 to Liverpool, 5-0 to Manchester United, 3-0 to Arsenal and 5-1 to Chelsea, they did manage a 3-2 loss to Manchester City which was at least close. The problem is they haven’t really done too well against even the teams they should expect to get something from. Bolton are also the only Premier League team not to draw any game so far this season…could one be on the way against Spurs at the weekend?
This season they seem to be missing something and maybe the missing ingredients are American international midfielder Stuart Holden and South-Korean international Lee Chung-Yong who were integral players to the Bolton last term.
Since Holden joined Bolton on a free transfer from Houston Dynamo he has been a revelation, establishing himself as one of the best up-and-coming midfielders in the Premier League with some hearty displays full of energy and initiative. When fit, Holden is a main stay in the Bolton midfield and a player they should shape their team around. As well as his qualities on the pitch, his attitude and personality off it are important. He is level-headed enough to put in the hard work when it matters and keep the mood light when it doesn’t.
Lee Chung-Yong is quite the opposite of Holden when it comes to personality, his English is still improving, therefore it is not about being a big personality in the dressing room, he does his talking on the pitch. Like most South-Korean’s we have seen on our shores, he seems to have the ability to run all day, but he has a lot of technique, good in the dribble and can deliver balls in to the box that will usually lead to a chance. Lee Chung-Yong and Holden were half of a settled and affective Bolton midfield and there is no doubt there absences have been felt by the team.
Both players have had to have been replaced and maybe the quality of the signings isn’t good enough. If I was a Bolton fan this season I would have felt underwhelmed by the quality of players arriving at the club in the summer. Midfielders Chris Eagles, Nigel Reo-Coker and Darren Pratley all arrived, as well as defender Tyrone Mears and also striker David N’gog from Liverpool. None of these players are star names and all have a point to prove.
N’gog was a striker many Liverpool fans were pleased to see leave, they didn’t really rate him, rightly so in my opinion, as he has never really did enough to convince people otherwise. N’gog’s only good scoring records of note came whilst playing for France’s under 16′s and 19′s teams and he is pure potential that Coyle will do well to get the best out of.
Darren Pratley did pretty well at Swansea, but they weren’t devastated to lose him by any means and in my opinion he isn’t the type of player that will better Bolton. Reo-Coker’s career hasn’t progressed as many thought it would, but he does have a point to prove and probably isn’t a bad signing.
Burnley pair Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles also arrived as Coyle raided his former club. Chris Eagles is a good player, but it is time for him to step up from being a young player with potential, to an established Premier League player. Coyle knows him well from his Burnley days and he could come good if he works hard as there is little doubt technically he has a lot of ability.
Bolton have supplemented their squad over the last couple of seasons with loan players, none as affective as Daniel Sturridge last season, whose goals were priceless to Bolton. Coyle has also enjoyed previous loan successes with Jack Wilshere and, to a certain extent, Vladimir Weiss. This season Coyle has bought in Tuncay, Boyata and Kakuta, and it is only Boyata who has really looked the part, but he has recently been injured.
Coyle is not going to be able to buy his way out of trouble this season and will have to rely on loan signings in January as he simply has no money to spend. This will be the biggest test for Coyle yet, but after all the talk about his quality as a manager and also someone who should eventually manage at the highest level, he should be up to the challenge. January will see the end of Gary Cahill distinguished Bolton career and Coyle will do well to find a suitable replacement for a player who has been the rock of his defence.
Any players he brings in during the January transfer window will be key, if/when he loses Cahill, there are not many defenders in the Premier League he will be able to get on loan. Ciaran Clark from Villa could be one of the only options if you look around at who could be available and would be good enough, otherwise it will be a foreign player. He also needs more in midfield and another attacker – he may as well send Tuncay back after doing very little at Bolton so far.
It will be interesting to see if Coyle lives up to his early promise and growing reputation as one of the games top up-and-coming managers, by keeping Bolton in the league this season. They are not one of my favourites to go down, but Bolton cannot stop leaking goals, which is a sign of big trouble. It will be up to Coyle to pull his players out of a losing cycle and give them more confidence to turn some loses in to draws. Whatever happens, it seems like a little while before Bolton will be a top-half side again.