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Owen Coyle and Bolton Wanderers: The Love Story That Didn't Work Out

Rarely has there been such high expectation, and such deep disappointment...

Clive Mason - Getty Images

Losing the manager is like a break-up. Perhaps you weren't especially happy in that relationship, and it probably is best for both of you to move on, but it still is hard to move on. You'll have to get used to the quirks and irritating habits of someone new. What if they like to sleep on your side of the bed? What if they don't like the taste of garlic? Or, worst of all, what if, in the end, they turn out to be slightly less suited to you than your ex? These are all frightening possibilities.

However, before you can consider getting into a new relationship, accepting a new manager into your club and soul, it's important to gain closure. And our Owen Coyle certainly gave the club a roller-coaster ride. It's difficult to truly remember just how low the team and the fans were at the end of the Megson era. I was at that last match of his, the hideous 2-all draw with Hull City at home, and I have never felt so much hatred in one place. The vitriol was palpable. It's safe to say that pretty much anybody would be welcomed with open arms at the Reebok.

But even taking that into account, there was something special in the air when Owen Coyle came to Bolton. There is of course the fact that he had a happy spell as a player with Bolton in the 90's, which certainly helped. More than that though, he was the polar opposite of Gary Megson. He was young, charismatic, fresh, and you could tell from the start that he truly cared about the club, something he maintained throughout his tenure.

Things didn't necessarily start smoothly for OC. Bolton lost his first match in charge, and went on to lose 5 of his first 10, earning less than 1 point per match. His first league win had to come against the club he left so suddenly for Bolton, near-by neighbours Burnley. The away fans labelled him Judas, for betraying them so quickly, which led Wanderers to give him the nickname Saint Owen. In the end, Bolton managed to pull out enough points to stay in the top division, after being 19th when Coyle took over in January.

Hopes were inevitably high in 2010-11, Coyle's first full season in charge, and to begin with, it seemed justifiably so. These were he golden days of the Coyle Era. After the dreary days of Megson, and then's Coyle's necessary damage control of the previous season, Bolton were finally doing well again, and looking good doing it. Stuart Holden, who had come to the club on a free the previous January, but had his previous season cut short by a broken leg, came into his own.

Some particular highlights from that period were Bolton's 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur in November, which enabled Bolton to jump them in the table, and a 5-1 win over Newcastle later that month, which pushed Bolton into 4th place. The Men in White continued pushing for European football whilst maintaining an excellent FA cup run, taking them to the semi finals. However, in mid March, in a fairly dismal match against Manchester United, Jonny Evans put in a rash tackle on Stuart Holden, breaking his leg. That was the end of the high-flying Wanderers.

Without the midfield revelation, Bolton began the slow and painful capitulation. Despite going into the Manchester United match in 6th place with less than 10 games to go, Bolton managed to sink to 14th place by the end of the season, the exact same standing as the season before. The team crashed out of the FA Cup with a horrifying 5-0 loss to Stoke at Wembley, a match that still gives many fans nightmares.

So, it was with guarded hopes that the Wanderers entered the 2011-12 season. The expectations were merely to place above 14th, and hopefully rediscover the good football that Stu Holden had enabled. And at the start of the year, that looked plausible. The Whites opened with a spectacular 4-0 win over Premiership newcomers, Queens Park Rangers, putting them at the top of the table, however briefly. Immediately after that, Bolton face the Big Four + Manchester City in the next 6 matches, losing every single one of them. After the last of those matches, a 5-1 loss at the Reebok to Chelsea, Bolton were firmly at the bottom of the table.

That terrible run set the tone for the rest of the season, and with the exception of a few false starts, Bolton never really looked like a team that deserved to stay in the Premiership. After 10 years in the top division, the Wanderers were relegated on the last day of the season, by a 2-2 draw with Stoke (of course it had to be Stoke).

It's still unclear why Owen Coyle could never make things work again. It's true that Stu Holden is an incredibly talented player, and that any team would benefit from his services, but it shows just how much Coyle has left to learn tactically that he couldn't come up with a plan B. There were some fantastic matches played under thte cheery Scot, but when it was bad it was very bad, and OC floundered when under pressure. He had some bad luck, and had thing gone just a little differently, Bolton could be in a very different place right now. But the fact is that they didn't, and Coyle was given plenty of chances. I hope that he's given a chance elsewhere, and that he learned the right lessons from his time at Bolton. Owen Coyle could make a very good manager some day, but he certainly isn't there yet.