I can’t quite believe I just typed that headline....but what a way to kick off our season.
As 2,516 Wanderers fans weaved their way through the traffic cones down the M6, very few would have been predicting an away victory at promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion. But this is Bolton Wanderers and as we all know by now, anything can happen.
So as the hangover wears off, what did we learn from our opening fixture
1. We’re ready to go
After rumblings and grumblings over the summer, bemoaning the lack of signings, there were questions to be answered to see if we’d be competitive come the start of the season. Well, despite only spending £200k of Ken’s dosh, it was clear from kick off we were very much up for the fight. The lads that have been brought in have certainly improved the quality of the squad and we looked like a decent side that just might surprise a few this time around. We’re a bit of an unknown quantity this year, discounting our pre season shenanigans, yet the signs were there that we could make a pretty good go of it.
Our opening fixture was definitely a tough start to the season, with West Brom one of the favourites for promotion, but we matched them in every department, we looked a lot fitter, sharper and kept a high tempo in and out of possession which we failed to do so often last season. Every player on the field yesterday wanted it, they were relentless in closing down the opposition and they all put a real shift in which always goes down well with the fans. I think it comes down to the fact that everyone is under pressure to perform, the competition in the squad makes everyone up their game a little. The result certainly silenced some of the doubters, long may it continue.
2. We have a winning formula
All the indications from pre-season (and the end of last) are that we’ll be playing a flat back four this season and for the football purists like myself, that’s how it should be. We know we may struggle with attackers who have pace but despite a few hairy moments and some last ditch tackles, our back four looked a solid unit bolstered by debutant Jason Lowe sitting just in front, who had a terrific game.
Parky was always going to stick one man up top as an out ball away from home and get players up to support him, but it was the early press from Josh 1 and Josh 2 which set the platform for a robust display, limiting West Brom to a lot of possession along their back line. The game plan was followed, the substitutions were well timed and it was good to see us still pushing forward rather than sitting back for the draw.
Adopting a 4-5-1 set up out of possession, and a 4-3-3 in possession looks like PP’s winning formula so it will be interesting to see whether we will stick with it at home next week against Bristol or whether we’ll revert to a 4-4-2. Personally, I’d stick to the way we played against the Baggies.
3. The one up top looks like a bargain
On a day where everyone was on form, I don’t want to single out any particular player but I’m going to anyway and that’s Josh Magennis. Injury to Clayton Donaldson meant that the ex-Charlton man would get his opportunity to lead from the front and it was one that he grasped with both hands. As well as his first goal for the Wanderers, his commitment and desire to work his socks off and get stuck in was impressive.
He’s an honest player, holds the ball up well and wins headers up the pitch, he’s Parky’s type of player. At just £200k, if he performs week in, week out at that level, he looks a real bargain and I can see him becoming a fans favourite already, His passion to take his chance against quality opposition means it will be nigh on impossible for Parky not to start him next week even if all forwards are fit. To this end, I’m struggling to see, if we buy another striker, as has been mentioned this week, where Alfie is going to get a start from. Team selection will be very interesting next week.
4. Away days are brilliant
As the players and PP congratulated each other in front of the delirious Wanderers fans (with Stelios) at the final whistle, the togetherness was there for all to see. It’s a far cry from 2 years ago when that connection was non existent. Our last two games have certainly had their fair share of excitement with two late winners making it all the more enthralling, but the atmosphere was fantastic from the first minute to the last and supporting Bolton all makes perfect sense on days like these. We’re the club that just keeps on giving.
5. We only have 45 games to go
We’re off to a flyer and all the signs are good that we will improve on last season, but there’s a long way to go and even though I may have got carried away last night, as the dust settles and the headache subsides, the reality is it’s only 3 points and our season won’t be defined on the opening day. We need to get some more players through the door to add depth to the squad, in particular a keeper and a left back so if we do that this week and bag a couple of loans, then that will set us up nicely for the season.
There are still things to work on and one of the targets from Parky this year was to control the game more and have more possession. Against West Brom, surprisingly we only had 28% possession, although it didn’t feel like that during the game, As it stands though, we’re in the Play-Offs so who cares about stats...
All in all, a great start and a jolly good day all round. Roll on next week and we’ll do it all again, hurrah