They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, you tend to know exactly when things went wrong and exactly what should have been done at that moment. Unfortunately, that's hindsight and not real time where the correct decision is often obscured by emotion, hope, luck, or blind faith. It took me longer than most to get both feet on the bandwagon and in what was a long, slow, painful process, I have fallen out of love with Owen Coyle.
It might have been the man's unwavering positivity, memories of the 2010/2011 season, or just a want for the man to do well, I can't really be sure. Yet, it's not Bolton's awful league position or the consistently sliding results of the last 19 months that seem to have done it for me. It is the constant inability of the management to recognize what we can all agree are glaring issues in the side.
Never mind plan B, there has never been an intention of straying away from Plan A by Owen Coyle. We've seen him try to hammer star-shaped pegs into square holes on so many different occasions. That said, the square peg will not always have been available but Bolton Wanderers surely had rectangular pegs within reaching distance that surely would have plugged said hole better.
Amusing children's toys and novelty hammers aside, this phenomenon was ever-present in last season's relegation run with Owen Coyle persistently starting Darren Pratley when it simply was not working. The same goes for this season with the decision to play Mark Davies on the right side of midfield when what Bolton clearly needed was a wide man that tends not to go missing in games.
Coyle has insisted on a midfield four of Mark Davies, Jay Spearing, Keith Andrews, and Chris Eagles for six games running. In that span, Bolton have won against Sheffield Wednesday and Watford, drawing at home against Leeds United, and losing to Birmingham City, Crystal Palace, and Millwall. That run of "form" has seen Bolton slump to 18th place in the table, level on points with those in 16th-21st place and six points away from the final playoff spot. It's clearly not working yet there's been no changes to the side that don't include David Ngog in one way or another.
One of the major issues is that Owen Coyle's management of Bolton Wanderers is not very proactive nor is it reactive. Rarely are changes made to the side following a poor result in hopes of getting a leg-up on the next opponent. Instead, the mentality seems to be that it worked once so it should work again. This, again, is the star-shaped peg into a square hole.
But then, the changes are not reactive either. The case in point here is not trotting out the same starting XI after the Birmingham City, Crystal Palace, and Leeds United matches where Bolton were on the back foot for so much of them. Rather, the case in point here is Chung-Yong Lee's latest appearance.
With Millwall pretty much bossing the whole of the last match and having walked all over the Trotters in the first half, it was increasingly clear that Bolton needed width as Tyrone Mears and Stephen Warnock were not able to move forward like they normally do. A change at halftime would have been the correct move. A change at the 60th minute would have been sensible. A change after the 75th minute would have given Chungy a little bit of time to find his feet. When did the change come? The 90th minute with five minutes of stoppage time, not leaving the young winger (who has looked a shadow of his former self without time to get back on his feet) with enough time to make a difference or even get a touch on the ball.
There were a number of reasons for why Owen Coyle's tenure continued past relegation. Some of them were nostalgic, others were hopes that Bolton could regain the form that saw them in 6th place in January of 2010, while the majority seem to have come from the understanding that Bolton were majorly hamstrung by injuries in the 2011 / 2012 season. After all, it's nigh on impossible to replace your two best players (a central midfielder and a right winger) on a budget that is nearly non-existent after years of exorbitant spending under the Gary Megson regime.
That argument, once again going back to Chung-Yong Lee's "appearance" against Millwall, is quickly becoming invalid. Chungy is back fit and has been since the final two games of last season. That's nearly five months of a fit winger that's been given a negligible amount of game time.
At the moment, Lee looks a shadow of the player he was in 2010 / 2011. He seems to be nowhere near where he was prior to an awful leg-breaking tackle that he received in summer 2011 during a friendly with Newport County. The pacy winger that could put in an excellent cross or quickly cut in center and hit the ball towards goal has not really been able to do either this year. More than anything, it looks like a case of being off the pace and being hesitant. Something that will only fix itself with time on the field.
And then there are the signings, Owen Coyle's had a few decent permanent ones (read: Stuart Holden & Martin Petrov) and quite a few that are yet to pay dividends. Matt Mills has established himself into Owen Coyle's choice to partner Zat Knight at the back, but that's not necessarily a good thing, as the match against Millwall so blatantly pointed out. Then, there's the famous case of Marvin Sordell, a £3 million striker for the future that is rated as the "best finisher" as the club.
£3m is not a lot of money for a lot of clubs, but it's a fortune to Bolton at the moment. That number becomes even more massive when you consider that the sum averages to £333,333 for each appearance (with length of time on the field varying). This becomes an even bigger problem when finishing in front of goal is nearly non-existent for Bolton Wanderers. The team has scored 13 goals in ten games while allowing 16. The only area that seems to be doing a decent job is the midfield and even then, that's a stretch.
Owen Coyle's best signings as Bolton manager have come in the form of loans with Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere being the two notable names. Benik Afobe is the newest young name to join that list but he is yet to prove the hype he came with. The biggest problem here is that Afobe has been picked much more often that Marvin Sordell, a striker we paid good money for and one that's touted as a better bet in front of goal. A striker that is yet to blossom in Bolton Wanderers colors.
We've said it a number of times before: we want Owen Coyle to succeed at Bolton Wanderers. There's no question that he cares about the team and that he wants to do well at the Reebok Stadium. We don't know what the breaking point is for Coyle's Bolton Wanderers tenure. What we do know is that the two favorites to succeed Coyle in Mick McCarthy and Alan Curbishley are nowhere near confidence inspiring and it only gets worse from there with Alex McLeish, Alan Shearer, and Phil Brown occupying spots 4-6.
The problems that Bolton Wanderers currently face are in no way unfixable. Better team selection, a more proactive managing style that can also react to adverse conditions, and defensive discipline are all things that can and need to be improved. Should the fixes be made and Bolton start picking up positive results, and a lot of them, Owen Coyle may just be the man for Bolton Wanderers once more.