So here we are again, the league season is almost upon us and the opening game of the 2013/14 Skybet Championship is within touching distance. Much has changed in the world of Bolton Wanderers since we began the 2012/13 season - we have a different squad, perhaps different expectations and of course a new manager. We do however face the same opposition in Burnley.
In a neat nod to history, the Football League announced the first fixtures of the new season in the 125th anniversary of the league with a programme of special anniversary matches. There will be two "special" games in each division, featuring a number of the league's founder members as well as a number of other matches which have historical significance, including our very own game with Burnley at Turf Moor.
Last season, we began our league campaign at the same ground, with Burnley's Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin scoring either side of half-time to ensure then-Bolton manager Owen Coyle suffered a miserable return to Turf Moor. Coyle left the Clarets for Bolton in January 2010 and was booed throughout, including certain sections of the away end. Coyle was to leave the club in October following a very disappointing start to the campaign.
His replacement Dougie Freedman arrived from high-flying Crystal Palace, and after an initial bedding-in period along with some astute January signings led the club to finish the season in 7th spot, missing out on a Play Off spot on the final day of the season. The excellent form that the club showed in the latter stages of the season will give the Bolton supporters much hope and confidence going into the new season.
Over the summer, Burnley manager Sean Dyche has brought in, to date, former Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Heaton, Oldham Athletic's Australian goalkeeper Alex Cisak and Joseph Mills from Reading - brother of Bolton defender Matt Mills - following a successful loan spell. In terms of players out, last season's first choice goalkeeper Lee Grant has joined fellow Championship side Derby County under freedom of contract. However their biggest story of the summer so far has been loss of last season's top scorer Charlie Austin, who has was expected to seal a move to Hull City the Premier League but failed a medical. Instead, Queens Park Rangers pounced and purchased Austin for an undisclosed fee.
Dyche has found it hard work to win over the Burnley fans. His rugged and pragmatic approach to the game has not been especially well received by the crowds at Turf Moor - the attractive attacking game favoured by Owen Coyle has largely been dispensed with, and a more workmanlike approach to the game brought in instead. Bolton Wanderers fans can empathise - the similarities between Dyche and Gary Megson are not limited to them sharing the same hair colour.
Bolton will be looking to start the season with a statement of intent. This 2013/14 Championship is arguably stronger than that of last season, with the relegated sides bringing quality and more importantly larger bank balances than those from 2012/14. The arrival of Queen's Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and Reading into the league will make it even tougher to escape from, and therefore it will be imperative that a strong start is made.
Our fixtures in the first six weeks of the season will go a long way to deciding our season as a whole. As we start away at Burnley, Bolton then entertain Reading, before travelling to Nottingham the week after. August is completed with a home game against Queen's Park Rangers before a final away fixture at Blackburn Rovers. So in five of the opening six games, Bolton will face a side who has been in the Premier League in the last three seasons. You would struggle to put together a tougher start if you tried.
Bolton's new signings will be key. Last year we struggled at the back, and the arrival of new fullbacks Marc Tierney and Alex Baptiste, from Norwich City and Blackpool respectively will strengthen a weak spot for Bolton, with neither Tyrone Mears nor the recently-departed Marcos Alonso particularly convincing. Midfield continues to be a problem for the Whites - last year's Player of the Year, Jay Spearing, has returned to parent side, Liverpool, and Stu Holden will miss much of the campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, meaning that Darren Pratley, Medo Kamara, Keith Andrews, and Josh Vela are at present the only choices available to manager Dougie Freedman. Mark Davies, a certain starter, will be injured until Christmas at the earliest.
We have strengthened the wide midfield spot with the arrival of Rob Hall from West Ham following his blink-and-you'll-miss-it loan spell last season. Chris Eagles has been heralded by Freedman as being his main man, and we can expect him to play further forward behind the central striker in Dougie's preferred formation.
Jermaine Beckford arrived from Leicester City to improve the striking options, but question marks still exist over David Ngog and Marvin Sordell, who combined scored a palty 12 goals over the league campaign. Youngster Tom Eaves impressed on loan in the first half of the season, but had little impact when recalled to the first team. Summer rumours about a move for Blackburn Rovers top goalscorer Jordan Rhodes proved to be paper talk, and the "marquee" signing has yet to materialise. Beckford would score nine goals in 20 games on loan at Huddersfield Town from Leicester City and it is hoped that he will provide the killer instinct that his new teammates lacked in 2012/13.
Recent games against Burnley have been a mixed bag for Bolton Wanderers, with history reporting a record of 121 games yielding 45 wins for Bolton and 46 for Burnley. Last season brought a win apiece, with Burnley's 2-0 opening day victory followed by a 2-1 win for Bolton in February, with Craig Davies and David Ngog scoring. That broke a run of two successive defeats against their Lancashire rivals, both away from the Reebok Stadium. Before a 1-1 draw in 2009 and a 1-0 Bolton win in January 2010, the two sides had not met in a League fixture since December 2000 when two goals from Michael Ricketts gave Bolton a 2-0 win at Turf Moor.