Bolton Wanderers Season Preview: another dogfight?

With the 2018-19 Championship season starting later today, The Football Lab spoke to Bolton Wanderers fan Ben Reardon (@Ben_Reardon95).

You secured survival in dramatic circumstances last season. After David Wheater and Aaron Wilbraham’s late goals gave you a defining 3-2 final day win over Nottingham Forest, was relief the overriding emotion?

Yes. Bolton struggled considerably throughout the course of last season, often shooting themselves in the foot which left them in a precarious position heading into that final day win over Nottingham Forest.

And when things are in their favour, with Barnsley and Burton both suffering defeats, prior to those two dramatic late goals from Wheater and Wilbraham – they were down – so it was a surreal feeling to see them stay up the way they did.

The style of football, especially away from home, could be described as a tad negative. Are you hoping to see a bit more ambition on the road to reduce the pressure on the home games?

From the limited games away from home that I did attend last season, Bolton were woeful on their travels, with manager Phil Parkinson, from what I saw, struggled to find a plan B if things didn’t go to plan away from home.

Sammy Ameobi scored a wonderful solo winner against Bristol City last season. Do you see him as your biggest threat going forward?

On his day, Sammy Ameobi should be Bolton’s most creative attacking outlet, but often last season, a campaign in which niggling injuries often stunted his progress, he was sometimes hit and miss.

The talent is obviously there for the former Newcastle man, it’s just the consistency to perform in a team who are likely to struggle, so the burden could be on him to drag Bolton to a result.

There were a few games last season when Ben Alnwick looked for the target man with every goal-kick. Is more variation needed?

Given Parkinson’s route one direct style of football, which worked a treat in League One during Bolton’s promotion-winning campaign, it wasn’t a surprise to see the ideology of pumping it forward to a target man continued throughout last season in the Championship, so it’s a case of expecting more of the same.

Mark Little looked like one of your better players last year. Will new right-back Pawel Olkowski have to wait his chance?

I haven’t seen anything of new signing Olkowski admittedly, so it would be unfair to make a passing judgement. Little was excellent at right-back in a defence who struggled.

His versatile, attacking prowess made him a fan favourite throughout the duration of the campaign.

Mark Beevers and David Wheater formed arguably the most efficient centre-back pairing in the EFL in 2016-17. How did they handle the step up in pace and quality last season?

The pair were excellent in the promotion-winning season, and I felt the step up saw them face a new challenge as a partnership.
The arrival of the experienced centre-back Jack Hobbs following his successful trial will put pressure on Wheater and Beevers to perform this coming season.

A few fans aren’t overly convinced by Andrew Taylor, at least for the Championship. Do you need to bring in a left-back better suited to this level?

Personally, I felt that Taylor performed admirably in the fixtures he played last season, after nailing down a starting spot in the previous campaign, he found himself in a battle with Everton loanee Antonee Robinson (now at Wigan), with Parkinson often rotating the pair.

You look perhaps a tad short of pace and quality on the left wing at present. Will bringing in a wide man be a priority between now and the end of the transfer window, or can Will Buckley or Craig Noone find some consistency?

Creativity was an issue that Bolton faced throughout a major part of the season.

Injuries at different points in the campaign for both players stalled progress that they would have ideally made in their first season at the club.

Personally, I feel the two players should definitely be given opportunities to prove themselves, it’s up to Parkinson who he favours.

Clayton Donaldson signs from Sheffield United. Might he offer a bit more muscle than Adam Le Fondre?

For the first half of last season, prior to the sale of target man Gary Madine to Cardiff, Bolton’s main route to goal was through playing long balls to their physical forward.

When Madine departed to South Wales for £6m, Adam Le Fondre was presented with more of an opportunity.

The arrivals of Clayton Donaldson from Sheffield United and most recently, Josh Magennis from Charlton for £200k, are seen as a statement to where Parkinson’s tactics will lie next term.

Trotters aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you? Where will you finish?

The Championship is difficult to call every year, but Stoke City, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough are likely to be the front runners for an automatic promotion spot.

It will be interesting to see how Frank Lampard does at Derby County, whilst East Midlands’ rivals Nottingham Forest could do well under Aitor Karanka.

Alex Neil’s Preston North End, who just missed out on the play-offs last season, are also a side to look out for.

Thanks to Ben for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Bolton can be found on We Love Betting.