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Assessing Neil Lennon's First Season at Bolton Wanderers

Tom has a look at Lenny's first sort-of season in the hot seat

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

I will take a minute here to admit that I wanted Malky Mackay to get the job; before he turned out to be a raging homophobe/racist/anti-Semite.

Lennon was behind Mackay and Chris Hughton in the pecking order for me, purely based on their experience at Championship level. However, the Ginger Prince took the hot seat on 12th October and was set with the task of turning Bolton Wanderers into a half decent football team. Let's see how he got on.

Well, football became enjoyable again - imagine that.

You could go to the Macron and enjoy watching your football team. First of all, he got the basics right. We spanked Wigan twice at home, and beat Blackburn. The most dominating performance, however, has to be the 3-0 win over Cardiff in November. We looked like we were going to score every time we went forward against a team that included a raft of Premier League talent.

Craig Davies was a man mountain.

Chungy and Pratley were given licence to push forward and support the lone striker, something which appeared alien to season ticket holders so used to a static and disciplined 5 man midfield. Liam Feeney scored a brace. A brace. Two goals. Madness.

Added to this, the home game against Watford in February proved that we could go toe to toe with the division's best. Either team could have scored the winning goal; it was just a shame for us that it was Watford.

Chungy - remember that "finished" ex-Premier League player? The one that scored the goal to send us to Wembley at St Andrews in 2011? The one who represented is country at the 2014 World Cup? Turns out he could play a bit. Moved in from the wing, and played in the number 10 role behind the centre forward, Chungy was revitalised.

For this, Chungy owes Neil Lennon just as much for reinvigorating his career than Gary Megson, who made Chungy his final permanent signing in 2009. Finances sadly dictated that we had to make a quick buck on Chungy in January, which saw him move to Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee believed to be around the £1 million mark.


Signings - Heskey. Gudjohnsen. Le Fondre. Bannan. McCarthy. Whether they played a large or a minor role in the second half of our season, Lennon's signings appeared to make an impact. Signing Eidur was the perfect way to get the fans on side, plus the fact that he's a Champions League winner and can play a little bit.

Heskey has provided moments of brilliance, although most of it comedic. The goal at home to Blackburn was superb, hilarious, and unashamedly Heskey. Brilliant stuff.

Not quite was impressive was the continued defensive naivety - I'm sick to death of watching our team concede last minute goals. Crucially, they've usually been deciding goals as well. What I'm even more exhausted of hearing is our manager talking about these events as if they are acts of God, as if there's very little we can do to stop them. Granted, the back four/five does need fresh faces, but there was enough Championship experience there to construct a solid back line.

Fully fit and raring to go, our best back line last season was: McNaughton / Wheater Mills / Ream. Paddy McCarthy seemed to strengthen the defence immediately with his no-nonsense approach as well. However, with Lennon only being permitted to having 5 loan players in his match day squad, Paddy found his chances limited.

I'd quite like to see him in a Wanderers shirt next season. Injuries and loan restrictions meant that it was rarely possible to play our best defensive line up. However, more should have been done to remedy the goals we were leaking in the dying stages of games. It needed to be stopped. It wasn't. It's one of the key issues that Lennon needs to fix next season.

Then came the tactical errors.

Admittedly, there have been times this season where we have played teams off the park, notably Cardiff home and away. I know Cardiff haven't had the best of seasons, but we can't forget too quickly that this was a Premier League team not too long ago, and we wiped the floor with them.

One of my favourite moments of the season was Bruno Ecule Manga, Cardiff's centre half, and virtually sprinting off the pitch at half time. I'd like to think it was to escape the clutches of Craig Davies for 15 minutes. However, at times this season, the reverse has been true.

The second half in the home game against Norwich shows that Neil Lennon is still cutting his teeth as a manager. We had nothing to play for against Norwich, so why the team was wasting time with 20 minutes to go is beyond me. Lennon left Rochinha and Mark Davies on the bench, choosing instead to bring on Neil Danns to shore things up in midfield. Saidy Janko also came on in a straight swap for Tom Walker.

Norwich, on the other hand, brought on strikers Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper, and winger Elliot Bennett. No prizes for guessing which team went on to win the game. I remember feeling strangely pleased that Norwich had won, in the hope that it had taught the Ginger Prince a tactical lesson. No matter who you are up against in this league, you play to win your home games, not to draw.

The home atmosphere is still a bit naff - the Blackburn game at home in the festive period was just how the Macron should be; bouncing. Other notable home games have been the demolition of Wigan at home (twice) and the 3-0 defeat of Cardiff.

The away following, as always, has been top notch. I had the distressing pleasure of standing on the Kop for the first fourth round FA Cup tie against Liverpool in January.

The Anfield Road Stand was filled with Bolton fans, and they didn't half make some noise. It was fantastic to see. Unfortunately, the atmosphere at home games on the whole has been disappointing. The North Stand "clappers" who apparently know the tune to "We're the One and Only Wanderers" but not the words (the clue is in the name, people), have been giving their calloused hands a rest at times and leaving the ambitiously nicknamed "Crazy Corner" to their own devices.

Pockets of empty seats surround the crowd, and the atmosphere on the whole is mediocre to poor. It must be a million miles away from Lennon's experiences at Parkhead. However, it is nothing that a surge in form won't fix - it's amazing how many people find their season tickets down the back of the settee once you're in the play-off places.

So what does next season hold?

It literally could be anything from knocking on the door of the play-offs to falling through the League One trap door. There are too many transfers to be made, both in and out, before we can start to place expectations on Lenny's shoulders. For now, I'm going to go for a boring, non-committal middle pack finish (anywhere between 10th and 16th). The elephant in the room is whether Neil Lennon will be around this time next year - I fully expect the Premier League vultures of Leicester and Norwich to start circling if and when a managerial vacancy arises.

2014/15 rating - an uncharitable 6/10