‘Big changes planned at Bolton Wanderers’, ‘End of the road for some players’, ‘No punches pulled’ promised a local newspaper on Sunday a day after Bolton were thrashed 4-1 at Blackburn. Bolton fans no doubt tuned into the coverage of transfer deadline day with great interest hoping to see the under achievers moved on and two or three new faces brought in. However it was to be a massive anti climax, no-one left, no-one arrived.
The fact that no club was willing to take any of our players speaks volumes. I have no doubt that Dougie Freedman worked overtime to get players out but the lack of interest should not be surprising after the displays they have served up so far this season. Late attempts to bring in Craig Ramage and Michael Kightly failed due to a lack of funds and they instead joined Barnsley and Burnley respectively.
Relegation from the Premier League is really starting to hit home when the money for a couple of loans is no longer available. What Freedman must be thinking now after leaving Crystal Palace for a club with supposedly better resources?
Throughout the summer Freedman has spoken of Financial Fair Play and the need to move players on before he can bring any in. Whilst Bolton kept spending to a minimum over the summer, only parting with small fees for Jay Spearing and Jermaine Beckford, their supposed promotion rivals have ignored these restrictions and continued to spend and heavily strengthen their squads. Bolton supporters could be forgiven for thinking that FFP is an excuse and that the chairman and owner have lost interest.
It appears the club has come full circle from when Sam Allardyce inherited a struggling mid table team in 1999 and its very disappointing to see Bolton’s debts continue to increase, despite receiving over ten years of Premier League TV money.
Certainly it seems some players have lost interest with the performances they have put in since the season started. Any pre season optimism has faded after a miserable August which has returned no league wins in five and elimination from the League Cup by old rivals Tranmere Rovers. It is true the fixture list has not been kind to Bolton with opening games against promotion contenders, Reading, QPR and Nottingham Forest and local rivals Burnley and Blackburn.
Furthermore, a small squad has been stretched once again by injuries to key players, but performances have been unacceptable – highlighted against Blackburn on Saturday who were able to overrun a lethargic and spineless Bolton team. The ease at which David Dunn and Jordan Rhodes were able to score Blackburn’s first two goals was nothing short of embarrassing.
It has become obvious so far that the defence that lacks pace especially in the middle also lacks organisation, the full backs are often exposed due to a very narrow midfield that neither creates nor protects and the forwards have so far failed to take the few chances that have come their way. If things to do not quickly improve it could easily be a season of mid table mediocrity or worse in front of 10,000 fans at the Reebok. Already this season it has been noticeable the dwindling attendances at home matches, no doubt not helped by the lack of investment in the team over the summer.
So how can Bolton go about rescuing this season after such a terrible start? Certainly the return of Chris Eagles should help after he limped out of the season opener at Burnley, he can bring a much needed spark to the midfield and in turn start to create a few more chances for Jermaine Beckford who has contributed next to nothing since arriving at the club. Despite the transfer window ‘slamming’ shut the loan window will soon open for Football League clubs and I’m sure Freedman will be looking to use it to freshen up the squad.
Hopefully those players who are no longer welcome will be moved on and at the very least an upgrade on our current centre backs can be brought in. Finally – and I’m sure something most supporters would like to see – would be a change in captaincy. The current captain Zat Knight has been extremely poor (to put it kindly) this season and does not seem to show any sort of leadership on the pitch. Possibly a reason for Freedman giving him the captaincy in the first place was to try and coax some better performances from the £4 million defender. This has backfired and some supporters made their feelings clear at Ewood Park on Saturday. A more suitable candidate would be Jay Spearing who actually appears to want to play for the club and takes some pride in his performances.
With two weeks now until Leeds visit the Reebok, Freedman has plenty of time to work with the team on the training ground. After his strong post match comments following the Blackburn game such as “certain players not pulling their weight,” it will be very interesting to see what sort of team is selected for the next fixture. Bolton supporters can only hope that the manager backs up his strong words with actions.
Written by James O’Loughlin, We Are Going Up’s Bolton Wanderers blogger
James tweets at @james_O_L