Sunday marked the return to Championship football of my beloved Bolton Wanderers. For the first time in more years than I care to remember I was feeling positive for the season ahead. After defying the odds and winning promotion from League One last season, I felt we’d managed to capture some decent new signings despite our well documented financial constraints. I was particularly pleased with the permanent signings of the “postman” Filipe Morais and Adam Le Fondre. Add into the mix the return of Sammy Ameobi & the loan signings of young West Ham duo Reece Burke & Josh Cullen and I was confident we were putting together a competitive side. I always look forward to the first game of the season and seeing how any new signings perform so I thought I’d focus on these players for my first blog. Would the experienced Buckley impress? Could Adam Armstrong show the same form he did whilst on loan at Coventry in the 2015-16 season?
For me, 20 year old Burke had the best debut of our new signings after replacing the injured David Wheater. I believe that coming on as a sub at centre back is a notoriously tough ask but Burke belied his age and gave an assured no nonsense performance. The biggest compliment I could give Burke was that I didn’t notice him too much – he slotted into the defence effortlessly and exuded confidence against a strong Leeds side. He wasn’t afraid of getting stuck in and made a few important challenges to keep Leeds at bay.
I was a little underwhelmed with Darby’s debut and it was clear to see from social media that a lot of Wanderers fans agreed with me. However I don’t want to be too critical at this early stage of the season. Yes, he should possibly have done better with the second goal but he was playing out of position at wing-back and I believe deserves another chance. I thought he improved and settled into the game as the second half progressed. We must remember that we were playing a good Leeds side who’ll no doubt be in and around the playoffs this season so I don’t want to fire too much criticism in Darby’s direction at this early stage.
I was very happy when the signing of Buckley was announced who brought with him a fair amount of Championship experience. Personally I was hoping the midfielder would have got a start against Leeds but was fairly impressed once he came off the bench. Buckley always looked to make himself available at every opportunity and seems to have a fair bit of pace about him too. I think Buckley could prove to be an astute signing this season.
When the signings of West Ham duo Burke and Cullen were announced, I saw a lot of tweets from Hammers fans disappointed they’d let the youngsters come out on loan. So I was eager to see how the highly rated midfielder would get on when it was announced he was in the starting line up. I was pretty disappointed in his first half performance with the game passing him by on occasions and when he did have the ball, spent too long on it. However come the second half, Cullen grew more into the game and was willing to make some important challenges. There were times he reminded me slightly of Jay Spearing and there are definitely positives to take from the 21 year old’s performance.
It’s very difficult to comment too much on Armstrong’s performance after only coming on after 80+ minutes. However it’s clear to see that the on loan Newcastle striker has pace and could have won a free kick towards the end after bursting through the Leeds defence. I was quite impressed with Armstrong during the friendly against Stoke and can see glimpses of the player who scored 20 goals for Coventry during the 2015-16 season. If he can repeat this for the Whites, we’ll have a player on our hands.
Only time will tell how much of an impact the above players will have this season but on first viewing I think Burke, Buckley & Armstrong could really add something to the side. The jury is still out on Darby but I don’t think he should be judged too harshly when playing out of position. No matter what happens this season though, I think it’s vital we get behind the Whites and support them through thick and thin.
By Jen Ward