Happy New Year everyone!
Welcome back to yet another instalment of Bolton Wanderers’ 16/17 season review, this time, January, and the mid-season transfer window.
Off the back of a largely successful and hectic festive period, another game in quick succession in the form of Coventry City away was the perfect opportunity to round off one of the best first halves to a season that we’ve ever had.
The first game of 2017 saw over 2,000 Wanderers fans make the relatively short trip down the M6 to the Ricoh Arena to witness what began as largely disappointing as the hosts deservedly took the lead following a poor first half performance from the Whites. Luckily however, a tactically brilliant triple substitution from Phil Parkinson early in the second half allowed Max Clayton to rescue Wanderers right at the death sending Bolton fans into delirium and back up the M6 breathing a sigh of relief, thankful to have got our first point on the board in the new year as the game finished 2-2.
In Parky’s post-match press conference, the gaffer revealed that despite giving the lads the day off on Christmas Day, the team had trained regardless, acknowledging the task in hand in the second half of the season, simultaneously boosting their reputations in the eyes of the fans as the long awaited 100% commitment from a Bolton Wanderers side was finally showing through.
After a close shave at the Ricoh, it was with a heavy heart that we had to bid farewell to Sammy Ameobi as his half-season loan expired, a player who is praised to this day as having a pivotal role in our promotion campaign this season.
Shortly after Ameobi departed, there was another temporary wobble in our off-the-field situation as it was brought to light that December’s wages hadn't yet been paid forcing Ken Anderson to resolve the situation and fund the outstanding wages himself.
Just a few days later, Wanderers were boosted by news from the medical staff that Mark Howard, Darren Pratley and Lewis Buxton would all return to training ahead of a massive FA Cup tie at home against Premier League outfit Crystal Palace managed by one Sam Allardyce.
In the midst of the excitement ahead of the cup game, Gary Madine was named PFA’s League One Fan’s Player of the Month for December.
With everything looking up for the Whites, we went in to the cup game with cautious optimism hoping for an upset on Big Sam’s return to the Macron (Reebok).
Wanderers stood strong for the whole 90 minutes, keeping Loic Remy and Fraizer Campbell quiet whilst coming close to grabbing one ourselves after a Josh Vela header hit the post meaning Wanderers were in the hat for the fourth round after forcing a replay and a trip to the Capital and Selhurst Park a fortnight later.
Bolton were handed a further incentive to take the place for the fifth round as the winners of the replay would face Manchester City.
Reverting our attention back to the league, a home game against Swindon Town gave us a chance to close the gap at the top, with the fans expectant of a result given the impressive home record so far and a solid performance against the Eagles, an unexpected last minute loss wasn't in the script and Wanderers found themselves forced to do it the hard way, unable to take advantage of the other promotion rivals’ slip-up’s.
Ahead of the replay against Allardyce’s Palace, Keshi Anderson’s loan was cut short having struggled to impress since arriving in August and needed to be sacrificed in order to free up another space in the squad as Wanderers, limited by the embargo, were forced to adapt a one in one out system as Parky was still looking to do business before the transfer window slammed shut.
As the replay against Palace came round, previous optimism was damaged following the loss to Swindon. Nevertheless, Wanderers put up a fight and even went ahead thanks to an exquisite James Henry goal early on. However, the £27m striker proved to be the difference as an unplayable substitute appearance and double from Christian Benteke forced Bolton out of the FA Cup. Unknowingly at the time, this proved to a god send as the ability to re-gain our focus on the league was seemingly a massive influence in our success come April.
Despite a brief return to the side earlier in the month, Darren Pratley was once again forced to spend a lengthy spell on the sidelines, supposedly for the rest of the season.
Wanderers’ next game against Phil Brown’s Southend United on a Tuesday night was postponed due to a frozen pitch which was followed by an alarming sacking of their groundsman of 27 years.
Next up was Charlton Athletic at home, which once again proved to be hugely anticlimactic as Wanderers suffered the second 2-1 defeat in a row at home against a side who were rescinded to ten men within the opening fifteen minutes. Wanderers were unable to capitalise despite a Zach Clough goal immediately after the sending off.
As we reached the business end of the month, literally, Phil Parkinson brought in Burnley forward Chris Long on loan until the end of the season, largely to the delight of Wanderers fans, but some still unsatisfied as they waited in anticipation to see what deadline day would bring.
The 31st January was a day of mixed emotions for Wanderers as the supporters experienced delight and heartbreak in quick succession. First of all, the signing everyone had waited for, Adam Le Fondre returned to the club on loan until the end of the season. However, the ecstatic reaction to the return of the prolific goalscorer was shortlived as the close of play saw Nottingham Forest snatch Zach Clough, much to the dismay of Whites fans.
So ALF was back, but Clough was gone, what happened next you ask? Find out in February’s edition later this week.