Phil Parkinson was appointed as manager of Bolton Wanderers on June 10th 2016 - that’s almost three months ago. You’re probably thinking, “What’s this knobhead on about, analysing his first month in charge?” Well, dear reader, as a keen football fan and avid Whites supporter, when push comes to shove I only really care about the meaty areas of the season; starting in August.
So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to take a look at Parky’s first competitive month in charge of the Whites and see if we’re happy with how the club is being run.
Let’s start with the on-pitch stuff, shall we?
We opened the season against Sheffield United; a team that were hot favourites to run away with League One before a ball was even kicked. I was excited for the game, as I’m sure many of you were, and was looking forward to seeing whether or not we’d be able to pull our weight after so many changes at the club during the summer. If I’m honest, I don’t think we were that good. We collected three points thanks to a wonderful Jay Spearing volley, but in hindsight I’d say Sheffield United were much better on the day. They created a hatful of chances in the first half and could’ve easily been two or three up at the break. Having said that, we showed fight, grit and determination to dig in and grind out a 1-0 win against tough opposition with fantastic travelling support, something we haven’t done since the Allardyce days. Happy? With the football, not so much, but with the result: yes.
On to a League Cup game away at Blackpool. With almost double the amount of Wanderers fans at Bloomfield Road that evening compared to home support, you would’ve expected us to smash them. Seriously, Blackpool have got more off-field issues than John Terry circa 2010 and have fallen from grace faster than Fred the Weatherman. A late Kaiyne Woolery goal saw us take the game to extra time at 2-2, and it was ultimately pushing for a winner that got us knocked out. In hindsight, do we care? Do we fuck. We’ve got bigger fish to fry than the FA Cup’s little brother.
Our first away game of the season took us to newly-promoted Akinfenwa-less AFC Wimbledon and their 2,265 seater stadium; a far cry from the luxuries of the Macron. The elephant in Parky’s dressing room was our away record - the worst in England/the world - and something that Parky was going to have to fix immediately if we wanted any chance of promotion. I wasn’t holding out much hope, given the fact our squad was, and still is, essentially the gang of knob heads that were relegated earlier this year. However, unbelievably, our 497 days of waiting were over thanks to goals from Gary “Goal Machine” Madine (love you, mate) and Liam Trotter. AND, to make matters even MORE astounding, we came from behind! The scenes.
We’re now top of the league with six points from two games and, dare I say, optimism is starting to creep onto the terraces. A Wednesday night trip to Bristol Rovers would soon sort that out, I thought. A hell of a long journey followed by a very tricky midweek fixture spelled disaster in my eyes - kind of like travelling 200 miles to have sex with someone who isn’t your wife... after work. In the middle of the week. Anyway, I digress. An early goal from Josh Vela complemented by a wonderful free kick from Jay Spearing put us 0-2 up at the break. Were we dreaming? Could this be three league wins on the bounce? Surely not? Unsurprisingly, it was backs to the wall again in the second half as The Pirates threw everything at us (not the lads from Somalia, that is a long way to travel for a midweek game). Amazingly, we held firm for a 1-2 victory. Slap yourself, this is no dream. THIS IS THE PHIL PARKINSON REVOLUTION.
Three days later we were back on home soil and playing visitors Fleetwood for the first time ever in a competitive fixture. Going into the game I, for one, was very confident. Surely we should be steamrollering teams like this? They’re literally up the road and only brought about 18 fans. Shambolic. My heart sank as we went 0-1 down and I thought our streak was well and truly over. “Fucking shit, this”, I thought to myself as the Whites went in at half time, a chorus of ‘boos’ echoing around the stadium. (Who the fuck boos when you’re top of the league, can I just add? What sort of major helmets think about that? Proper bike seat sniffers, if you ask me.) Back out for half time and lo and behold, Parky worked his magic once again and big Gaz bagged another goal - a scrappy one, albeit, but who cares?! A slight bit of squeaky bum time was quickly dissipated by another thunderous Josh Vela strike and we ran out 2-1 winners. PHIL PARKINSON IS GOD. WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT, FOUR WINS FROM FOUR AND WE’RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE.
A week’s break did the players some good before a tough test away at fellow Championship rejects (and now promotion chasers), Charlton Athletic. Another goal for my mate Gaz Madine meant we were 0-1 up, away from home, dreaming of 15 points and another away win. I could barely contain myself in the fields of Leeds Festival as I frantically searched for wifi to keep up with the scores. As expected, Charlton fought back and we were probably lucky to come out with a point, but we now go into Saturday’s game against Phil Brown’s Southend United as the only team in the entire Football League with a 100% record this season; two home wins, two away wins (still can’t get over that) and an away draw.
Now that, if you don’t mind me saying, is pretty fucking impressive.
Winning games at the start of the season is one thing, but if you don’t have right the personnel to get you through to the very end, you may as well shut up shop and call it a day.
I’ll be honest - I wasn’t overly thrilled with our business before the start of the season. Mark Howard was a decent signing; he’s a solid ‘keeper. Mark Baevers was absolutely the pick of the lot, what a man, but the rest - Jamie Proctor, Chris & Andrew Taylor et al. weren’t exactly going to set the league alight. Squad players, you might say. I still don’t rate Lewis Buxton, either.
But then, against all odds, Parky & Co. pulled it out of the bag on transfer deadline day. After Adam “The Snake” Le Fondre signed for Wigan earlier in the window, I was understandably upset - considering how badly we needed a proven goalscorer. However, the signings of goalkeeper Ben Alnwick from Peterborough, Newcastle winger Sammy Ameobi and dynamic Wolves midfielder James Henry really got me excited. Alnwick is obviously here to give Mark Howard something to worry about for the next two years, but Ameobi and Henry are both very good players at this level. The former has played against us a few times and I’ve thought he was pretty lively on every occasion, and the latter has won the League One title in the not-so-distant past, and scored a screamer against us a couple of years ago. Very decent indeed. My concern about the two outfield lads is that they’re only going to be with us until January; something that I’m sure could be extended if necessary but still, we’ve signed players on loan for short periods of time before and it never ends well. We rely on them too much and when they’re gone, we never replace them. Hopefully that will change. (N.B - I’m aware our financial situation probably dictated the short-term loan situation, but that doesn’t make me happy about it).
In addition to the three lads above, we also secured the signatures of young Crystal Palace forward Keshi Anderson and Rotherham defender Tom Thorpe for the entire season. Thorpe worked with Parky at Bradford last season, so that’s a pretty obvious one, but the capture of Keshi Anderson could push us on to the next level in this league. If given the right service and played in a system where he’s supported by Madine/Proctor, I think he could score 10-15 goals for us this season, if not more.
Overall I’m delighted with our deadline day business, and after being pretty underwhelmed until a couple of days ago, things seem to be looking up at little old Bolton.
So there you have it, a bit of a review/breakdown/my thoughts on Parky’s first August at the club. Will we win the league? On current form, I’d say so, but I’d settle for promotion via the play-offs, if it came to that.
Up the fucking Whites, and viva Phil Parkinson.