The first three months of Neil Lennon's reign at Bolton Wanderers resembled a happy new couple, both smitten with each other and incapable of doing any wrong. But the honeymoon period is now well and truly over as Bolton suffer a dramatic turnaround in form.
Lennon's first 17 matches in charge at the Macron saw Wanderers lose just three games, all away from home and two of which were suffered in his first two away fixtures. But since the 0-0 draw at Liverpool in the FA Cup Wanderers have only managed one win from nine matches - the 3-1 home victory over Fulham.
This poor run of form has seen us lose our last three matches, conceding four goals in three consecutive matches before Tuesday's 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough, and a first home league defeat under Lennon in the last home fixture against Watford.
The visit of Brighton today offers Wanderers an opportunity to get back to winning ways against a team in and around them in the league, following a run of tricky fixtures against sides chasing promotion. But where has this alarming turnaround in form come from?
It is noticeable that Wanderers' decline is in complete parallel with the absence of Darren Pratley. The midfielder has been excellent since Lennon's arrival, not only popping up with several vital goals but also providing vitally industrious, hard-working performances. He picked up an injury on February 3rd, the day before we took on Liverpool in the FA Cup replay, and two games into our barren run of poor form. The players who've stepped in to replace Pratley haven't been able to match his work rate, and that has certainly been a contributing factor to Bolton's demise. It feels to strange to say it, but Pratley's absence has been a key miss for Wanderers.
Another major issue with the Wanderers side is players repeatedly playing out of position. We've seen midfielder Filip Twardzik come in as an emergency left-back, midfielder Josh Vela repeatedly playing at right-back - although admittedly he has often looked better in this position, all left-footed Tim Ream filling in at right-back, winger Saidy Janko briefly play at right-back, Barry Bannan playing as a wide midfielder, and most hilariously Emile Heskey playing as an emergency centre-half.
Blame for this can't necessarily be thrown at Lennon as he's had a severe lack of available players due to a lengthy injury list, but it's clear Wanderers need to get players back fighting fit and stop putting square pegs into round holes. This lack of familiarity in certain positions is certainly costing us and can be linked to the reason why we've suddenly started leaking goals for fun.
Bolton's drop in form is certainly a major concern, as we now sit just six points above the relegation zone having previously been hoping of an outside push at the play-offs. Today's match with Brighton and the Tuesday night clash at home to Reading are huge games, but I have every faith that Neil Lennon will rekindle the romance for Wanderers fans.