In the first of a short series, we want fans of Football League clubs to give us a review of their club’s performance on and off the pitch during 2014/15. First up it’s ANTHONY HART and his club, Bolton Wanderers.
Barely a tenth of the crowd waited in a cold Macron Stadium after the final game of the season. There was an unusual delay of the players coming back out for their lap of appreciation. It felt like a non-event, and a metaphor of Bolton Wanderers’ season.
It was a season that effectively ended in February. The start was hopeless. Dougie Freedman’s football was no-frills, no-fun and almost no-wins. A respectable League Cup performance at Chelsea was a rare escape. Three days later, as Bolton trailed 2-0 at home to Derby, people had finally had enough; on and off the pitch.
“Freedman out. Gartside out”
People were getting on the pitch. It was farcical. Freedman had one more game, away to Fulham. Bolton lost 4-0, as some fans resorted to urging the Cottagers to score another to ensure Dougie’s coffin was nailed. Within 48 hours, he was gone.
Neil Lennon took over after the October international break. It was more proactive to watch, and for a while it was getting results. A near two month unbeaten run got them well away from the relegation zone, but already the gap to mount a play-off challenge was too much.
Derby wins at home to Wigan and Blackburn, plus the FA Cup ties with Liverpool gave us some highlights but once Liverpool ended the cup campaign, there was realistically nothing to play for. A horrendous run of injuries, including to the influential Darren Pratley and Mark Davies, and the sale if Lee Chung-yong to Crystal Palace didn’t help, and for the last three months Bolton drifted to mid-table obscurity. The end of the season was heartily welcomed.
What happens next? Talk about Bolton always leads to talk about debt. It has increased again, but interestingly, losses were down from around £40million to around £10 million. The club is starting to trim the wage bill and has met Financial Fair Play demands. That’s a start. It does mean Lennon will mainly be looking at free transfers and loans yet again this summer, however.
There are already echoes of last summer. Twelve months ago, there were hopes of securing Lukas Jutkiewicz on a permanent deal after a prolific loan spell. He eventually went to Burnley. This time, it is Adam Le Fondre and Barry Bannan who have impressed on loan. Le Fondre has said he is open to a return to the Macron. Will austerity allow it though? Cardiff are looking to cut their expenditure too, so hopefully something could happen.
Twelve months on, one bright hope is young talent. Zach Clough, having made his debut in January, would probably have ended up top scorer had his season not ended in March through injury. Josh Vela, Tom Walker and Max Clayton have also broken into the first team, and look as comfortable, if not more so, than some of the older heads. First-team coach Garry Parker said the same in a post-match interview after Saturday’s final league game. “Our worry is deep down the senior players aren’t good enough. Some of the players we’ve got aren’t good enough.”
Next season is tough to call. There will be plenty of outs, and there will need to be good quality ins, particularly in the wide positions which where almost ignored by Freedman. Lennon has proved already with a fit squad and something to aim for, he can get results in the Championship. The top half is more than realistic a target, in fact it should be a minimum. Actually being promotion contenders could still be a bridge too far.