We all remember the events of last season's final day all too well. A win was what Bolton Wanderers needed in order to ensure their Premier League status for another year over Queens Park Rangers, who were playing the eventual Champions at the same moment.
Adam Bogdan's routine catch was controversially barged into the net by Jonathan Walters for Stoke's opener before Mark Davies leveled matters following a ricocheted clearance attempt. Kevin Davies would the Trotters ahead thanks to a cross attempt that somehow snuck into the top corner at the near post but Walters would have to play villain once more as Peter Crouch went down very softly over Adam Bogdan's leg and Walters' penalty kick would ultimately relegate the Trotters. Bolton needed a win and even though QPR lost, Wanderers went down by a point.
It is now a year to the day since the events of that fateful trip to the Britannia and we feel it necessary to ask: are Bolton better for it?
A full year in the Championship saw Bolton make some very important changes at just about every single level of the club. A new manager, a new coaching staff, a tuned academy system, new players in, old players out, and even changes in the medical staff were all things that have happened in the last 12 months.
The largest change of all, the new manager, has now had just over six months at the club and his influence can be seen. The Trotters are fitter, the defense is stronger, and the signings are willing to fight for (ultimately earning) their place in the team.
The Championship was, in short, a hell of a test for Bolton Wanderers. When all was said and done, they played 50 competitive matches this season between league and cup clashes with many matches in quick succession. More often than not, the Trotters would play three times in the space of seven days with a relatively thin squad. The apparent lack of training and real pre-season under Owen Coyle did not help matters in that regard.
After three months under Dougie Freedman and a few unbeaten streaks along the way, Bolton Wanderers found themselves in 20th place in the Championship. However, it was in that three months that Wanderers were getting fit, working the summer break off, and doing (gasp) tactical training. That all became very clear following the inclusion of Craig Dawson into the hardened Bolton defense and the Trotters shot up the table, fighting for a play-off spot.
Then came the final day. Another 2-2 draw would see Bolton below the the line they needed to be above and Wanderers would miss out on the playoffs by the smallest of margins.
A year after relegation, Bolton Wanderers are, in the broadest terms, right back where they started. A year after relegation, are the Trotters better for it? I would argue yes. The club needed a drastic restructuring when it came to on-field personel and that was something that Owen Coyle would not budge on. The Championship cannot offer Bolton a sustainable future due to the club's financial situation and the simple lack of money coming in from the second division means that a return to the Premier League sooner rather than later is necessary.
Yet, the Championship has offered Bolton the unique opportunity to bring new blood through the playing ranks. Tom Eaves, Sanmi Odelusi, and Josh Vela have all seen playing time this season while Marvin Sordell has had the chance to make an impact in a Bolton shirt. Chris Lester and Zach Clough have been regularly included in first team activities and signings including Jan Gregus and Cian Bolger will look to make first team impacts soon. The moves for Craig Davies and Medo Kamara brought Bolton two hungry players capable of contributing and showed a real financial consciousness aimed to keep the club in check.
It is a little to early to determine whether or not Bolton Wanderers are well and truly better for their year in the Championship. That will become clear with a return to the Premier League and a lengthy stay in the top flight. Until that moment comes, we can only judge Bolton on the steps that are taken to reach that goal and, at the moment, it looks good.