Back in the big-time, kind of. Bolton Wanderers are closing in on their return to the SkyBet Championship after one year in the depths of the third tier - but do they have enough to ensure they are still there this time next year?
Here are my thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
First Six Games
Safe to say this isn’t the easiest of starts to a campaign, and I think we’ll be lucky to get one or two wins from the opening six fixtures. The opener at home to Leeds is of course huge, and our first away game is an early must-win.
August 6th - Bolton Wanderers 1-1 Leeds United:
Leeds have strengthened this summer and I think they’re a huge test for us first up. The Macron crowd will be up for it, which I think will be enough to earn us an opening day share of the spoils.
August 12th - Millwall 1-2 Bolton Wanderers:
This is a huge game for us. A second league game and our first away day, but we tend to do well against Millwall and I fancy us to continue that at The Den. Ameobi to score a screamer out of nowhere to send the social media crew into the usual hysterics. But, remember we haven’t won an away game in The Championship since April 2015.
August 15th - Birmingham City 1-1 Bolton Wanderers:
Could be a tough game, but Birmingham are one of those sides that could be great or dreadful. Obviously they’ve got ‘Arry in charge and have subsequently been linked to the likes of Ashley Cole, Robbie Keane and any other washed up footballer doing the rounds. Undoubtedly Parky will set out to defend for all we’re worth and hopefully we’ll do enough to earn a draw, and sneak a lucky goal from a set-piece courtesy of David Wheater.
August 19th - Bolton Wanderers 1-1 Derby County:
I don’t fancy our chances here, but I think we can sneak a draw.
August 26th - Hull City 2-0 Bolton Wanderers:
I’m not convinced Hull are that good, but realistically they’re much better than us. We’ll be lucky to get a shot on target.
September 9th - Bolton Wanderers 0-4 Middlesbrough:
Maybe a bit more attacking threat on home turf, but Middlesbrough will be far too strong for us, and I don’t fancy our defence’s chances up against Bamford, Assombalonga and co. This could get ugly.
Six points from the opening six games wouldn’t be too shabby, all things considered.
Final League Position
21st will be a miracle, but realistically - given the financial and transfer embargo restrictions - it’s going to be difficult. Ahead of the signings announced yesterday (more on that below) I suspect we were looking down the barrel of finishing plum last again, but I am slightly more optimistic about our chances with the quality that these players bring in. Still, I’m happy with anywhere 21st and above this season.
Amid the lack of transfer options, there’s a huge opportunity for youngsters to step up to the plate. One of those could be Alex Perry. The midfielder put in an impressive performance in an unusual sweeper role in the friendly game at Tranmere Rovers last week and played well on his debut in the FA Cup against Grimsby Town last season, so he could be one to keep an eye on this season - if he’s given a chance to prove himself.
Signing of the Season
All the loanees here. Adam Armstrong is an exciting talent who is as yet unproven at Championship level. He scored plenty of goals in League One for Coventry City but only managed six goals in 37 games for Barnsley last season. His raw pace could be a threat to any defence at this level, but let’s just hope he’s given enough game time to deliver that threat.
The double signing of Reece Burke and Josh Cullen could be an absolute masterstroke, up until January and hopefully beyond. One of my mates is a West Ham fan and has been raving about the potential of these two, so let’s hope we can help them realise it.
There’s not exactly a wealth of choices here, so I’ll go for Adam Le Fondre. If we can create chances then Le Fondre has the goalscoring ability to put them away, but we have to supply him with the chances to convert. If we can get the best out of Armstrong then he could push ALF close and there’s always Wheater and Beevers from set-pieces, but let’s hope we don’t have to resort to that.
Supersub of the Season
Probably Armstrong. I don’t see Parky going with him as a starter straight away, but his pace could be hugely effective as an impact substitute.
What Will Parky Do?
Defend, defend and defend. Realistically we don’t have the firepower to go gung-ho this season, so - similarly to last season - our defence is going to be vital. If Mark Beevers and David Wheater can perform to the same levels as we saw last campaign, and if Dorian Dervite is able to step up in support, then we’ll go some way towards safety. But if our defence is anywhere near as bad as it was last time we were in this division, then we stand no chance. Parky’s approach and sound defensive base will help, but will it be enough?
No matter what happens, even if we have an awful start and can’t buy a win, we cannot resort to thinking it will be Parky’s fault. This is one of the toughest jobs in the country, so don’t be fooled into thinking that 21st and above should be enough to earn him manager of the season.