I won’t bother trying an overall prediction and my answer to what to expect is I have no idea so go ask someone else. But I will look at a few little areas below.
Opening Few Games
The season starts with an interesting mix of opponents.
We start against Sheffield United who are a team who will be looking to get promoted after far too long in League One. They should bring a solid League One team managed by Chris Wilder who should do a good job. A team who will be up there will be a stern test.
We then have Blackpool who got relegated from League One last season in the League Cup who will no doubt be in a terrible state once more. If this game goes badly then alarm bells should be ringing, hopefully though this can be routine exercise.
Then is a double header against League One new boys AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers. You would expect these teams to be at the weaker end of the league, but may well have form carrying over from successful seasons. Solid results here would lay a good foundation.
Then its Fleetwood Town who narrowly escaped relegation last season so should be at the weaker end of the League One spectrum.
Then there is fellow relegated side Charlton Athletic who will be seeking an immediate return to the Championship. They should be a decent team and will be another good barometer of Bolton’s progress.
That line up should give us a good gage of how the team will do this season. I think it is fair to say that none of them are unbeatable but that there should be some decent tests in there. I will not try and predict any of the results, but if we could get 10 points from the 5 league games and get through the League Cup tie I think that would an amazing start.
This is especially the case when you consider recently relegated teams from the Championship who have struggled. Bristol City went months without a win the year after they went down and before taking the league by storm. Wigan Athletic suffered a slow start before storming to the title while Blackpool dropped straight through the division. Then there is Sheffield United who have spent far longer down there than they would have thought. Getting off to a solid start would help alleviate fears that the club may slide towards League Two and offer a good platform to push up the league from.
There will be a number of players key to whether Bolton can achieve anything next season.
One of the more important is new defender Mark Beevers. No one needs reminding how bad our defence was last season. If we are to do anything other than struggle at the bottom of the table then it needs to do better this year and Beevers is likely key for that. As a player experience at this level and indeed processing quality at this level we have to hope he can marshal a meaner defence.
Another of our new signings Mark Howard will be important regardless of whether he becomes first choice over Ben Amos. Last season Amos had no competition and no need to up his game to keep his place. By all accounts this season will be different as Howard is a proven goalkeeper at this level. At the very least he will force Amos to up his game.
From an attacking perspective Max Clayton, Jamie Proctor and Gary Madine (yes you read that right) will be important. All three have experience at this level of the game. Madine actually has a decent scoring record at this level and might finally prove to be a useful player. Clayton was signed from League One Crewe having played in the league for them and Proctor was on loan with Parkinson’s Bradford last season. We have to hope that our attack fairs better than last season and I think that those with experience of this league will be the key.
Finally I think that Jay Spearing could be a key player this season. He has struggled to find consistency in his game since his first season while on loan. But hopefully at League One level he will prove to be a very useful player indeed.
Players with a Point to Prove
Darren Pratley has it all to prove for Bolton. As a player who has now been involved with two relegations at the club it was about time he was part of some happier memories. By all accounts he should prove to be an asset in League One, only time will tell if that will pan out but it probably won’t.
Another who has been around for two relegations is of course Mark Davies. It was a long time ago now that he was one of the up and coming young English midfielders and completed one of the best debuts I have seen. He is a player very much living off that reputation even now he is in his late 20s. He really needs to start showing that he can play football to a good standard or will struggle to find a club willing to pay him even the smallest fraction of his current wage.
Defensively Dorian Dervite has been somewhat suspect for a while. But then no one needed to be told that. Now that the club has dropped down a level it is about time he proved that he can actually defend. Sadly though I don’t see that happening.
Another who has a point to prove is Gary Madine. After last season where he appeared out of his depth at Championship level he needs to show what he can do now the club finds itself in a league he is more accustomed too. I think he can prove the point, but will not be surprised if proved wrong.
Although there are of course more players with a point to prove the last I will hit on is Ben Amos. After such a great loan spell he was simply not good enough last season. If he starts this season as first choice then he needs to show what he can do. In theory he could be the best keeper in this league and if he wants his once promising career to look bright once more he really needs to be.