Saddled with financial uncertainty, hamstrung with a transfer embargo, it is easy to see why many have already written Bolton Wanderers off this season. I agree, these disadvantages have made it difficult for Bolton to strengthen this season. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to write my beloved Wanderers off.
The Championship is a notoriously unpredictable league. While clubs such as Wolves might splash out £15 million for just one player, and Aston Villa may have the likes of John Terry, Micah Richards and Jack Grealish among their ranks, this does not always guarantee success.
In the past we have seen unfancied teams like Blackpool, and more recently Huddersfield Town attain promotion without spending millions on big names.
Bolton Wanderers have momentum. Having experienced a steady, painful fall from the top half of Premier League to League One, the Wanderers have bounced back. They’re on their way back up.
Squad numbers were confirmed yesterday as follows:
1. Ben Amos, 2. Mark Little, 3. Andrew Taylor, 4. Dorian Dervite, 5. Mark Beevers, 6. Josh Vela, 7. Chris Taylor, 8. Jem Karacan, 9. Adam Le Fondre, 10. Sammy Ameobi, 11. Will Buckley, 13. Ben Alnwick, 14. Gary Madine, 17. Derik Osede, 20. Adam Armstrong, 21. Darren Pratley, 22. Filipe Morais, 23. Stephen Darby, 31. David Wheater, 33. Mark Howard, 34. Jeff King, 35. Connor Hall, 36. Harry Brockbank 37. Alex Perry, 38. Jack Earing, 39. Jake Turner, 41. Ryan White, 42. Cole Lonsdale
Although there is now also uncertainty over the terms of our embargo, we are looking to add to this squad.
This is a squad which could go one of two ways: surprise people and actually be very competitive in the Championship; or completely bomb and replicate the 2015/16 season. Here’s why.
This is the department that worries me the most actually. Big earner Amos has struggled since signing permanently and looks to be heading off on loan. That leaves us with Alnwick and Howard as our two senior ‘keepers. Although they both coped well in League 1, neither really shone to the extent where you could see that they deserved to be playing above that level. Unsurprisingly, neither have much experience of playing in the Championship or above. While I’m all for giving them a chance to prove themselves, neither fill me with confidence. Jake Turner is by all means a great prospect, and has reportedly attracted interest from big clubs, but we can’t be relying on him; he is yet to play a professional game.
Therefore, I think we should give Amos another go. We’re unlikely to find a club who will pay the bulk of his wages. Therefore I’d give him a go. He is an experienced Championship goalkeeper, and he was good for his when he first signed on loan.
*Since writing, Amos has joined Charlton on loan.*
At the back is a prime example of where things could either go really well, or really badly. Let’s start from the right: Stephen Darby and Mark Little are our two right backs. Darby is one of Parkinson’s trusted stalwarts who could really kick on for us (think Morais). He is an alumnus of Liverpool’s academy, and you can’t be too bad if you played for Liverpool in the Premier League. Mark Little has some experience in the Championship, and while he is unlikely to set the world alight, he will provide good competition for Darby which will hopefully bring the best out of each other.
However, Little was deemed surplus to requirements at Bristol City who only survived relegation by three points. Meanwhile, Darby has never played in the Championship, having spent the bulk of his career in the lower leagues with Bradford. Could these two be out of their depths?
At centre back, David Wheater was an absolute colossus last season in League 1 and has plentiful experience in the Championship and Premier League. At his best, he should be a very good player at this level. Meanwhile, Mark Beevers was in superb form alongside Wheater and has some experience in the Championship. Dorian Dervite has proven himself at this level for Charlton and Bolton (let’s not forget how good he was good during the early part of Neil Lennon’s reign). Former Real Madrid man, Derik Osede was highly rated in Spain, and could bring some real flair at the back should he overcome his injury woes. Bolton are also hoping to add West Ham youngster Reece Burke to their ranks, and have also had Championship and Premier League veteran, Alex Bruce on trial over the last few weeks. You would imagine that these two would also be very competent at Championship level.
With that being said, David Wheater has had injury problems throughout his time as a Wanderer, and should they return this season, Bolton find themselves in a very difficult position. Also, neither Beevers nor Wheater possess much pace at all. They could find themselves in trouble up against pacey Championship attackers. Dervite has proven himself to be very inconsistent, and should the side enter a bout of poor form, Dervite’s form is likely to plummet too. Osede has yet to find his preferred position, which is worrying: he’s “too small for a centre back; doesn’t get forward enough for a right back; and can never get into games as a defensive midfielder”. I really do fear that he’s just not cut out for English football but would love to be proven wrong.
At left back, our only senior player is Andrew Taylor which is rather worrying. I really like Taylor and I think he’s a very competent left back. He has vast experience at this level and you can see that on the pitch with his positional awareness and discipline. He is no natural wing back, so is more suited to playing in a back four, but is good enough going forward to play in a 3-5-2 formation. However, should Taylor get injured, we would have to play 3-5-2 with a winger at wing back unless we sign a new left back quickly.
We have got, on paper, some players who could be very good for us this season. However, things could go wrong and they could end up haemorrhaging goals. Such is the nature of this division that there are so many variables. We shall have to see. I’ll look at the midfield next.