So here we are, on the cusp of another Bolton Wanderers away day - this time at QPR.
The day also holds significance, being the 1-year anniversary of Dougie Freedman's departure from the club.
It was announced thusly, and there was much rejoicing:
CLUB STATEMENT: #BWFC can confirm that manager Dougie Freedman has today left the club by mutual consent.— Bolton Wanderers FC (@OfficialBWFC) October 3, 2014
Now it's time to ask - has anything changed in the year since his sacking?
Let's look at it in a methodical fashion:
1) The Club
I think we all can accept that we are on a stronger footing now. Granted, the legwork involved Freedman, but Neil Lennon has worked under similar (if not harsher) constraints.
They used to call it wheeling and dealing - but the one-in-one-out nature of Wanderers transfer dealings has, according to Lennon, brought the club back into the black for the first time in yonks.
Freedman operated under similar restrictions, but was afforded a larger transfer budget and it could well be argued that his signings were a lot more hit-and-miss than Lennon. Whilst not blessed with a perfect record in bringing players to the Reebok, the former Celtic manager has built a younger and more hungry club.
2) The Team
Let's compare the teams from Dougie's last game, and the last game that we played (2-2 at home to Brighton):
So there are quite a few differences between the two squads. In his infinite wisdom, Dougie chose to leave our mate Chungy (join me on twitter using #freeChungy, btw tbf), and whilst there are one or two names remaining, they represent two completely different visions of how Bolton Wanderers should line up.
The absence of youth in Freedman's team - with on-loan Cardiff striker Joe Mason being the youngest at 23 - speaks volumes in terms of his distrust of academy players. The name Owen Garvan will forever striker fear in Wanderers' supporters hearts too.
Lennon's Bolton does have a younger air to it, and with just the one loanee in the squad also gives his line-up a permanent feel.
3) The Atmosphere
Much improved, I reckon.
The last days of Dougie left the Reebok as a pretty unpleasant place to visit. His tactics were perceived to be overly negative, and, at the end of the day, we all want to be entertained, don't we?
Since Neil Lennon came in, I think we, as fans, know that we have a decent manager on our hands - someone who can bring the attacking play back in that was missing under Dougie. The atmosphere since the start of this season has reflected this, in my opinion.
Granted, the wins have remained hard to come by, but at the same time if you are a Bolton Wanderers supporter and you do not admit that the performances have been much improved to those of a year ago, then you're either blind or you are choosing not to see.
It's not perfect - it's not Big Sam-era better, but it's certainly improved in the last year.
4) The Manager
Our biggest asset, I'd say.
We took a punt on Freedman - I think we can all accept that - and at the time he was an interesting appointment, given his (relative) successes with Crystal Palace. However, these successes were fleeting and this was represented in his time at Bolton. A good first season was thrown away by his bizarre tactical and team selections in the final game of the season at home to Blackpool, and it went downhill from there.
Neil Lennon came in, said all the right things, and made immediate changes - and these changes made themselves an immediate effect. There was a lull, halfway through what remained of his first campaign, but the green shoots of recovery were indeed still there. This season has been a funny one, with excellent performances mixed together with our now-customary appalling away displays.
It's never boring, following Bolton.
5) Future Prospects
Hard to gauge, but I think that the future is certainly a lot brighter than it was on 3rd October 2014.
We had just sacked Dougie, and we had just lost 4-0 away to Fulham.
Today we face QPR away, a QPR without their top scorer Charlie Austin. Wanderers away days are generally something of a struggle (as we all know too well) but the previously-mentioned younger and hungrier squad gives cause for optimism, in my opinion - that coupled with a talented and charismatic manager in Neil Lennon makes me believe that the future is bright.
There are still those who make it their life's work to bag down a Bolton Wanderers manager - and they're the ones who can't see the wood for the trees. Football isn't black and white, it's a game of context. That's why people who put faith in 'assist' stats are full of shit.
I love Bolton Wanderers, and I think we have a good manager on our hands. As ever, it's not that simple, and it doesn't guarantee us wins , or points - but it certainly hints at better things over the horizon.