WITH many sides battling Championship relegation making progress, EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) is concerned about Bolton’s prospects.
One To Watch – Why Bolton are in serious relegation trouble
Times are tough for Bolton, on and off the field.
They are a very well-supported club with a proud history, but look likely to begin their 2019-20 campaign in League One.
Here’s why a season of strife could be in the offing.
There were reports this week that, prior to Friday’s 2-0 loss to Aston Villa, there had been payment issues with a handful of senior players.
They have reportedly been cleared up swiftly, but those problems could make it difficult to get the highest standard of performances from players.
In training for example, it is quite natural at most clubs that now and again one or two will allow their levels to drop slightly – that is when they need to be reprimanded by the manager or one of the coaches.
In this case, it might not be especially easy for Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin to discipline their players if they have not always been paid in full and on time by the club.
If Bolton had not had various financial problems over the last half a decade, one would have more confidence that this issue was just an isolated glitch; history suggests there is a wider, systematic problem at the club.
Since staying up on the final day of last season due to a dramatic late strike from Aaron Wilbraham in the 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest, Bolton have made 14 permanent senior additions: the average age of those new players is 30.
The main benefit of adding seasoned campaigners is that they tend not to cost a transfer fee and thus, are cheaper in the short-term.
Plus, the names tend to be more recognizable and are perhaps perceived as less risky, so it is easy to see why they appeal to a club with minimal funds.
There are many downsides though: firstly, players 30 or older tend to be declining in their capabilities.
Secondly, they have no sell-on value and given that Bolton’s squad has no obvious assets to make profits on, it is therefore hard to see the club attracting prospective new owners.
Thirdly, there is very little pace in the team. In the modern game, pace is a very important attribute, whether the strategy is to press high or counter-attack from deep; Bolton do not appear to have the wherewithal to do either.
Fortuitous early run
In Bolton’s first four games, they were outshot 36-68 by West Brom, Bristol City, Reading and Birmingham combined.
Remarkably, clinical finishing from Josh Magennis, Yanic Wildschut and Will Buckley meant they accrued 10 points from those encounters.
That impressive early-season form has since proved unsustainable, with a subsequent run of only six points from 12.
They have scored a meagre five goals in that time, conceding 19 to put them bottom of the Championship form table.
The 1-0 win over Derby, their only league victory since the opening four encounters, was a commendably spirited performance, but that triumph is accompanied only by away draws with Rotherham, Preston and Ipswich; three teams below 17th.
Lack of leadership
Think of the 2016-17 League One promotion-winning side and what stood out was the leadership.
Mark Beevers and David Wheater were inseparable on the pitch and off it, Jay Spearing offered inspirational tenacity and the powerful Gary Madine battled hard up top.
With such a formidable spine, every team who faced the Trotters knew they were in for a serious battle.
Naturally, the step up in division makes a difference as Beevers and Wheater have been unable to dominate Championship strikers in quite the same way.
However, it was palpable how Bolton lacked cohesion in their pressing against Villa and, especially in the second half of that 2-0 defeat, looked passive without the ball, at times allowing their opponents to waltz through at will.
When a Parkinson side is almost rolling out the red carpet, problems are deep-rooted.
Lack of quality
The only player to have scored more than two league goals for Bolton this year is Josh Magennis, who has not added to his tally of four since mid-September and has been dropped to the bench for the last two games.
The only player to have scored more than one is winger Wildschut, who has not bagged since August and did not even feature in the previous two encounters.
Erhun Oztumer is technically capable – he produced one or two jinking runs in the 1-0 home defeat to Hull – but it was clear while he was at Walsall that he needs the ball to feet to be effective, as he lacks the athleticism to relish agricultural affairs.
Sammy Ameobi is perhaps more likely to carry the ball forward over long distances but the former Newcastle man, by some distance Bolton’s best attacking player, is currently sidelined through injury.
Christian Doidge, who was playing National League football as recently as 2017, is preferred as a substitute option so arguably the biggest goal threat is Clayton Donaldson – who hasn’t netted in a competitive fixture since January.
The Jamaican grafts admirably and had his moments in the first half against Aston Villa but at 34, doesn’t quite have the pace to threaten to the extent he did for Birmingham back in 2014-15.
Quite simply, it is very difficult to see where the goals will come from.
The betting angle
Considering all the above, Betfair’s 3/1 on Bolton finishing bottom of the Championship looks good value.
The Trotters currently have a six-point advantage over the current last-placed side at present, but Ipswich look set to at least put up a fight under Paul Lambert.
Elsewhere, Hull have won back-to-back games, Preston are unbeaten in six, Rotherham have lost just once at home and Reading have won three of their last four at the Madejski.
While the teams below are showing varying degrees of resistance, Bolton are in grave danger of becoming the division’s cellar-dwellers.
Championship – Bolton to finish bottom (10/3 Betfair)