Points-wise, it was a stop/start beginning to Dougie Freedman's Bolton Wanderers tenure. The Trotters had stopped losing matches but wins were hard to come by, as was evidenced by the Manager's first eight matches in charge. In that stretch, Wanderers managed two wins, five draws, and one loss for a total of 11 points.
Despite the increase in points per game (1.375 to the 1.1 Owen Coyle managed in the season's first ten matches), the Trotters were not climbing the table. In fact, their league would actually get worse before it got better with Bolton dropping to 20th place in February before beginning the climb to sixth place.
The reasons for the lag in success (judged by league position) are plenty but perhaps the most obvious ones were the lack of fitness among the players and lack of discipline on the field. Perhaps Owen Coyle thought, like the fans, that his Wanderers team would walk through the Championship without breaking a sweat and as such, elected to go with a light pre-season. The team suffered for it.
Summer 2012 saw Bolton's first team play eight preseason fixtures from 18 July to 10 August with the U21s playing seven additional friendlies. This summer, there are just eight friendlies scheduled for both teams with the first team slated for three matches. Ahead of those clashes, Freedman is determined to get the team up to fitness with a week-long training camp in La Magna, Spain.
The Spain trip signals a change of pace for Freedman, who had previously made annual pilgrimages to Italy in order to study and learn more about the game. In a March 2012 interview, some 15 months after taking the Crystal Palace post (and six months before arriving at Bolton), Freedman spoke about his penchant for calcio in an interview with the London Evening Standard.
"People talk about the Spanish but the country with the most in terms of mental strength and tactical knowledge is Italy. They say this is my first job but nobody knew I spent my summers at Palermo's training ground, at Milan's training ground.
"I have a couple of friends who have played over there and and just through a few contacts I managed to spend three or four weeks over the last eight or nine summers studying there, and only there, because it is the best place to learn about the game."
While other players and managers spent their summers on beaches all over the globe, the then-Crystal Palace Manager would take in the game of football in the best way that he could imagine.
"It's been a process. It's not just a case of stop playing and suddenly you're a manger. I've been working towards this for years, sacrificing a lot of time, spending summer holidays watching Palermo train.
"I wanted to get a new perspective and new mentality and I felt the Italians are the strongest in terms of a winning mentality and tactical knowledge.
"It was my late 20s when I started having an interest in working out how the top teams go about winning and started looking at Italy. I also felt this need to give something back."
It's that experience that has begun to pay dividends for the faith that Bolton Wanderers placed in the young manager. A much stronger defense coupled with tactically aware play saw the Trotters surge into play-off contention, ultimately to miss out on goal difference. It was an impressive two-month-long surge that took Wanderers from 20th place up to 6th.
A hardened defense, tactical acuity, and the ability to grind out results. Bolton Wanderers fans know what they can thank for that.