soccer

2010 English Premier League Preview: Bolton

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By Erik C. Kriebel

Cheer up Gary Megson,
Oh what can it mean,
To a sh*t football manager,
Who wrecked a good football teaammmm! (Sang to the tune of Daydream Believer)

The songs in the terraces at the Reebok during the first half of the 2009-10 season contained about as much positivity as an Elliot Smith record. As for the aforementioned chant, it started fairly early in the Bolton season and would ring loud among Bolton supporters till December.

If you recall the manner in which Bolton played during Gary Megson era you’d have a hard time arguing with the discontent from Bolton supporters last season. Bolton was dreary, unimaginative, and downright negative for the first half of the year. The fans had been forced to watch an ugly brand of football from a manager many never really wanted in the first place.

Bolton supporters barely wanted to watch this team and it’s safe to say they weren’t alone. Those of you perusing the EPL schedule here in the states, how many times did you circle a Bolton match when it didn’t involve your favorite club or a side with an American player?
(I wouldn’t fault you if even those reasons still weren’t enough to get you out of bed on a Saturday or Sunday morning.)

From the outset of the 2009-10 season Bolton wandered right into the relegation zone and stayed within sniffing distance of the drop zone for the majority of the season.

Bolton finished the month of August in 18th place and never managed to sit higher than 12th for the remainder of the campaign. From August to December the performances grew more and more negative and the bitterness from supporters grew louder.

(See introductory chant, or might I suggest the Saturday, November 7th edition of BBC 606 after Bolton had just lost 5-1 to Aston Villa capping off a 3 match losing streak which included back to back 4-0 drubbings from Chelsea.)

By the time December rolled around Bolton was in 18th place again, with 12 points. The only person one the planet I could imagine who would have appreciated the style of play Bolton had adopted might have been Otto Rehhagel (Considering Don Revie is no longer with us). At times one could only be left to wonder if being the ginger Godfather of negative tactics had become paramount to winning matches for Gary Megson.

By late December the situation at Bolton was untenable. The team was still in the relegation zone; Megson had grown combative with the supporters and was citing the lack of depth and transfer funds as reasons for the team’s poor performance. Just before the turn of the year Megson was sacked and Bolton would lure Owen Coyle away from Burnley. Coyle’s side being three spots above Bolton in the table plus his ability take a lesser side and win with attacking football was likely all the convincing the Bolton front office needed to make a play at the Burnley man. However, there is a part of me that hopes Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside secretly loves WWE and was in part motivated by the passion of one motivated Owen Coyle fan’s desire to spread the gospel of Coyle’s ability.

Coyle gave Bolton supporters a hope of staying up and a promise of playing a more exciting brand of football. Coyle’s desire to play a more attacking brand of football saw him bring in Jack Wilshere (on loan from Arsenal), Vladimir Wiess (on loan from Manchester City), and Stuart Holden.

While Coyle’s 4-3-3 made Bolton a bit easier on the eyes the results were slow to come. At the time of Coyle’s arrival the club had managed 18 points in 18 matches. Coyle would essentially keep the club moving at the same pace picking up 21 points in the club’s final 20 matches. Bolton may not have improved a great deal in terms of wins and losses they did avoid the drop and looked to be developing a pleasing brand of football.

Depth and lacking the ability to create more goals troubled Bolton the entire season. Of the 67 goals conceded by Bolton last season 33 came between the 61st and 90th minute. Only four clubs scored fewer goals than Bolton last season and two of them will be in the Championship this year (Hull & Portsmouth). With those issues in mind Coyle set out this season to building a more attack minded team. In this summer are winger Martin Petrov from Manchester City and striker Robbie Blake from Burnley. Both players will fill the void left by the expiring loans of Wiess, Klasnic, and Wilshire.

If Bolton did one thing right last year it was managing to get points off lesser opponents. Of Bolton’s 38 points, 22 came from teams who finished in the six spots below them in the table. If Bolton can continue to that trend Wanderers supporters wills set their hopes on Coyle’s ability to nick points of the big clubs as he had done in the past should too see the club in much a better standing this season.

Bottom line -- Many U.S. fans proved last year we have the ability to endure some pretty awful play in order to watch one of our own (I’m looking at you Hull City). Regardless of whether or not Bolton’s play is pleasing to eye those with an interest in the USMNT will likely play close attention to Bolton with Stuart Holden expected to play a role in the side from week to week. The negative play is gone and, Owen Coyle has used a 4-3-3 formation during much of the pre-season. Having a roster that includes Martin Petrov, Lee Chung-Yong (who scored twice for South Korea at the World Cup), Stuart Holden, and Kevin Davies, Bolton should be a significantly more enjoyable side to watch this year. That being said you can rank the talent of the twenty teams in the EPL this season and be hard pressed to put Bolton in the top half of that list. The cast around Gary Cahill on the Bolton backline leaves plenty to be desired and Holden, Chung-Yong, and new signing from Marcos Alonso can perform on a consistent basis. Under Coyle Bolton should not end up in another relegation fight but will likely have to settle for a place in middle of the table, likely 11th-13th place.

In case you missed it:

* Blackpool
* Blackburn Rovers
* Wolves
* Wigan Athletic
* West Brom

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