The Bolton News recently surveyed Championship journalists reporting on all of the clubs in the division and it was perhaps unsurprising to see that the vast majority of them predicted Bolton to go down this year.
Why does everyone think we look so bad? Well, for starters, the players’ strike didn’t breed confidence. You’d be surprised, but some Championship fans genuinely still think our players are on strike and our squad consists of 10 people, including Lofty the Lion. Similarly, we only just stayed up last year, so it’s a fair assumption to make in lieu of a significant cash injection.
Well, why do I think we’ll do well? A good question! Here’s why…
We look really good going forward. I genuinely believe there are goals in this team. A big issue for us in the second half of last season was that bar a few good performances from Ameobi up front, we struggled to replace Gary Madine and relied too much on Aaron Wilbraham. Sure Wilbraham saved us in the last minutes of last season and will go down forever in Wanderers folklore, but the reality is that he was not up to the job.
While it is likely that neither Donaldson nor Magennis are able to step up to be quite the striker that Madine was in his prime for us, I believe we have two very good target men to work with. When played regularly, Donaldson got comfortably into double figures in the scoring charts while at Birmingham. He’s experienced at this level, and even last year was a handy outlet for Sheffield United. While he only scored five goals, we must note that a lot of his football came off the bench and I’d also say that Chris Wilder’s style of football is perhaps less suited to Donaldson’s than Phil Parkinson’s.
Magennis on the other hand, has never been a big goal scorer, but sure can head a ball. We have set piece specialists Murphy and Oztumer among our ranks now, and having watched Good Ol ‘Arry Maguire at the World Cup, we know just how useful good headers of the ball can be. He will also bring goals out of other players.
That leads me on to Le Fondre. While he doesn’t necessarily seem to be Parky’s favourite, he does score goals. He didn’t get that many last year, but he wasn’t given very many chances. When given regular starts, ALF does score for us. He was invaluable towards the tail end of last season – a real unsung hero.
Not to mention, we are looking to bring in another striker – Joe Garner’s name is being mentioned. Garner got into double figures in what wasn’t a great Ipswich Town side last year. It all bodes pretty well up top.
Also, let’s not forget our attacking midfielders. Will Buckley and Craig Noone both struggled for form last season, having had injury concerns. This season will be crucial to both of their careers; they’ve got to do a lot to prove that they’re still good players at this level, and have both scored in the past in the Championship. Similarly, Wildschut and Ameobi look to be able to provide goals cutting in from their respective flanks.
In the middle of the park, Oztumer is certainly a player who can make things happen and score goals. He scored 30 league goals in two seasons in League 1. Meanwhile, I also wouldn’t rule out the contributions of Luke Murphy and Josh Vela. Murphy, especially, has a pretty good scoring record.
So goals, tick. That’s often been the hardest part of football for us in recent years. Now, onto the other end of the pitch…
Well, I think our defence will be better than last year. We’ve got very good options down the right – Olkowski and Little – which fill me with confidence. At centre back, expect Wheater and Beevers to kick on and further improve their partnership with Jack Hobbs and Marc Wilson providing good competition. We do lack options at left back, with Andrew Taylor our only specialist left back. I know fans worry about Taylor, but after a confident and comfortable performance against Girona, I’d hope that they’d be willing to give him a chance on Saturday. He’ll likely start for now, as Antonee Robinson looking set to join Wigan. I really liked Robinson last season, but if there’s one area he needed to work on it would be the defensive side of his game. We’ve got more options on the wing this year, so I’d like us to sign a good, defensively solid left back as a priority. Jay Dasilva is an exciting option which has been talked about in recent hours.
I worry slightly that our defence lacks protection, with Jason Lowe as our only real midfield enforcer. Hopefully we can find a replacement for Karl Henry’s grit in midfield. Karl Henry, himself, wouldn’t be a bad option…
So there we have it, defensively, provided that we sign a new left back I think we’re better. In attack, I believe we’re better. Just chuck in another midfielder and a backup keeper, and don’t lose all our opening matches this time and we’re miles better this year. Sorted!
We’re staying up this year. Parky is yet again going to finish higher than last year.