Real football is here. At last we have actual performances to debate and results to pick the bones from.
Speculation and rumour is trumped by the realisation of the fact that Bolton Wanderers are about to embark on what could be a joyous, nerve-racking, tedious, disappointing or downright disastrous season that hits us square in the face like a Grzegorz Rasiak shot smashing into Row Z.
The Transfer Business:
First things first, who's in and who's out.
The rash of under-performing players on Premiership wages waving goodbye to the Reebok before it's much debated change of name to the Macron Stadium was unsurprising and greeted with an inevitable shrug by many fans.
Yes, Chris Eagles and Zat Knight in particular had contributed much in their time here but not a lot of it was particularly positive recently and we simply cannot carry passengers on the sort of money we can now use to bring in the necessary 4 or 5 proven Championship players. The fact neither has sorted themselves out a new club yet speaks volumes.
Tyrone Mears departure was a no brainer that not one fan will bemoan.
Young goalkeeper Jay Lynch departed after a string of injuries stunted what seemed to be a promising start to his career in the development squad.
The signings have been mainly expected, barring the arrival of French defender Dorian Dervite, which came out of left field to an extent. His free transfer from Charlton seems a shrewd bit of business for a player at a good age of 26 for a centre back to develop and with a good pedigree after stints at Tottenham and Villarreal.
First Liam Trotter, then later Neil Danns, Liam Feeney, and finally Kevin McNaughton were all signed after Dougie Freedman's 'try before you buy' scheme of last season bore fruit.
Three further trusted younger lieutenants arrived from his old stomping ground at Crystal Palace in the form of two unproven 20-year-old's in goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons (who replaces the outgoing Arran Lee-Barrett as third choice goalkeeper) and defender Quade Taylor, whose only senior experience was a loan spell with Conference outfit Welling.
The third was Dean Moxey, a tall and mobile left-back with Premiership experience who rose through the leagues with Exeter and then with Palace, where he nailed down a regular spot when gaining the promotion to the Premier League that Freedman himself had kick started.
On the face of things the signings are solid, if a little uninspiring but on an increasingly restricted budget and FFP rearing it's ugly head at every corner, needs must and he has gone with what he knows.
Ideal Potential Signing:
Well, it was Lukas Jutkiewicz, wasn't it? Two more goals tonight against Celta Vigo only add more envy to the glances we all cast at Burnley for 'stealing' the player we made, the striker we rescued from the doldrums of Middlesbrough's bench. How we wish we could have cobbled together that extra £500,000 or so before Burnley decided he was suitable fodder for their Premiership survival jaunt.
Could Grant Holt, out of favour at Wigan after a loan spell at Aston Villa, be the answer?
Would Wigan let him leave for a rival club and could we afford his wages and even the transfer fee for a 33 year-old who's best days seem behind him?
But is he the ideal short-term answer to our prayers; a brave, talismanic striker who can bring others into play as well as score goals himself. We'll have to wait and see if he or a similar type is in Freedman's thoughts or even within his limited budget.
Line up vs Watford:
Whilst we wait to see what Mr Freedman has up his sleeve or what he can find behind Eddie Davies' couch we move on to our likely line up which will face off against the World Eleven of Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
To my mind the team virtually picks itself, with just a couple of spots still to be settled:
McNaughton Mills Ream Moxey
Feeney Danns Chung-Yong
Subs: Bogdan Dervite Threlkeld Pratley Hall C.Davies Wilkinson
This assumes that the game comes a little too soon for the recovering injured such as Trotter, David Wheater and Mark Davies, who we would desperately miss.
Will Freedman last?
The likely answer is yes and although I still have my doubts over his ability to rouse a team to play cohesive and entertaining football on a regular basis, I don't want short termism to take an irreversible grip on our club.
If Phil Gartside ever had doubts over his suitability to steer the good ship Wanderers through the stormy return to the Championship seas he would have pulled the trigger after the 7-1 debacle suffered at Reading at the turn of the year. He seems to be behind him in the same way he was with Sam Allardyce and this backing, although blind faith would be unwise, is a good sign for the long term future and health of our club.
This is Dougie's team now to a large extent and with expectations amongst the faithful at a much lower level than before he can exploit this added patience to really forge a link between himself and the fans by entrusting the exciting Rob Hall a much more regular and starring role and by giving further chances to the likes of Conor Wilkinson and Georg Iliev whilst letting the home grown, local trio of Josh Vela, Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett further enhance their burgeoning reputations.
Game to look out for:
Undoubtedly the local ding-dong with the Dingles. Blackburn on Boxing Day at home.
A repeat of last year's result (not the Ewood surrender) would do very nicely Dougie!
If Bolton can combine a steelier back line with a more carefree, expressive attitude going forward a play-off push is not beyond the realms of possibility.
However, I do feel that unless Mark Davies can stay injury free, the link between defence and attack, centrally at least, is non-existent at times and that could mean another frustrating slog in mid table