After missing out on last seasons play-offs on goal difference, Bolton Wanderers will be expected to head into the 2013/14 Championship season as promotion challengers.
However, continued financial pressures off the pitch may make Bolton’s task all the more difficult. The chairman has spoken publicly of trying to stay in line with the new financial fair play rules and how Bolton still need to adjust to being a Championship club, this despite the wage bill being drastically cut the previous summer.
Pre-season results have been very poor, four games, zero wins. Granted the results of pre season friendlies are not important, performances are and Bolton have looked decidedly mediocre. Sloppy in defence and possession, lacking in ideas when going forward with the only real bright spark being the performances of Rob Hall. This mirrors the pre season of 2012 when Bolton carried their poor form into the season, got off to a dreadful start that ultimately cost Owen Coyle his job. If promotion is to be a realistic target, the Wanderers cannot afford a slow start this time around.
Dougie Freedman has quietly gone about adding to the squad from last season and despite spending very little money over the summer, Jermaine Beckford, Andre Moritz, Rob Hall, Marc Tiernay and Alex Baptiste have all been recruited. In the other direction the main players ‘out of the door’ have been club legend Kevin Davies, Sam Ricketts Marcos Alonso and Marvin Sordell.
Unfortunately it is the loss of loan players Jay Spearing and Craig Dawson that may prove most damaging to Bolton’s hopes in the new season. Both were instrumental in the up turn in form from February onwards that almost saw Bolton earn a play-off place. Dougie Freedman has spoken of his admiration for the pair but a lack of spending power has, so far, made these players out of reach. It may be a case of having to sell before any potential signings can be pursued.
As well as additions to the first team squad Freedman has also been active in adding to the development squad at the Reebok with the signings of the highly rated trio, Connor Wilkinson, Gary Fraser and Hayden White. This is a refreshing change from previous managers at the club who have largely ignored the development squad, whereas Freedman has shown a willingness to involve younger players in his first team squads. Whether these young players are in fact of the required standard or are just making up the numbers, due to a lack of funds, remains to be seen. Although the new signings are not spectacular they should add depth to the Bolton squad that was lacking last season. Freedman has often spoken of the importance of having options off the bench and believes this is the reason Bolton just fell short of the play-offs last season.
After the departure of Marvin Sordell, Beckford will now likely lead the line and Moritz will provide creativity in the “number 10” position, while Mark Davies recovers from a injury. The signings of Baptiste and Tiernay will fill the void left by Ricketts and Alonso in the full back positions. Finally the addition of Rob Hall from West Ham will provide competition to Chung Yong Lee and Chris Eagles on the wing. If his pre season performances are anything to go by then Freedman may have landed the club a real bargain. Freedman’s eye for a player may be crucial this season with funds at a premium, and he showed last season with Crystal Palace that it is possible to build a successful team in this division on a shoestring budget.
As far as a promotion campaign is concerned the bookmakers have Bolton as one of the front runners just behind the relegated pair, QPR and Reading, who both visit the Reebok in August. Other rivals Wigan, Watford and Nottingham Forest have invested heavily in their squads and will surely challenge, not to mention last seasons play-off semi finalists Brighton and Leicester.
Certainly if Bolton can display the sort of form that they did in the final third of last season a title challenge is not out of the question. Despite not having a striker capable of scoring 20-25 goals Bolton have enough players in the squad capable of getting into double figures and spreading the goals around. If Bolton can tighten up away from home then a automatic spot may not be out of the question, hopefully this can start Saturday at Turf Moor against local rivals Burnley.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
James tweets at @james_O_L