As the month of October begins, Bolton look to finally be competing on level terms on the football field. Although we still await our first win of the season, it is coming and the spankings are now almost a distant memory. Some of the youngsters who stepped into the late summer breach will no doubt get more chances to impress in the ongoing Tin Pot Cup and forthcoming FA Cup games, with the excellent Sonny Graham being a good example at Rochdale the other night. However, the League matches are a different matter and it really is down to our senior squad to get Bolton’s stones out of the relegation fire. But how difficult is that challenge?
Firstly, what points are we actually on? For reasons you are all acutely aware of, Bolton find themselves still on -9 points, picking up just the 3 points, despite having played 9 league games. Unfortunately, thanks mainly to those glacially ‘proactive’ movers in the EFL, we are still awaiting a decision on what punishment we face for falling to host that Brentford game a good five months ago now. It could be another 12 point deduction although the general view seems to be ‘just’ the three points. Similarly, the late notice and EFL unsanctioned postponement of the Doncaster game could potentially result in yet another 12 point penalty. The fact that the EFL were publicly humiliated by our clubs last minute unilateral action, coupled with the fact that our decision to postpone was made public before they were informed, suggests that we won’t get away without a punishment. Despite valid arguments that it was done whilst in administration prior to the FV takeover and was actually following EFL regulations re the frequency of matches for youth footballers, I suspect that we’ll get another three point penalty for that as well. Whilst educated speculation, I’ll take that to total a further -6 point punishment, giving a figure of -15 as my baseline for what follows.
So how many points do we needing to say with a degree of confidence that we will beat the drop? Taking into account Bury’s unfortunate & wholly avoidable demise (that’s another story) we have 35 league games remaining. Normally 50 points is the survival benchmark, but with only 23 teams this season, this can be reduced by a couple of points to 48. Adding the 15 penalty points means we need 63 points from 35 games. That works out to 1.8 points per game to survive or in other words, promotion form. And that’s starting now.
Is the squad up to it? We have just 22 senior players including a good half dozen youngsters with limited first team experience. In addition, ten are last minute transfer window arrivals now having been with the club just one single month. As Hill was at pains to point out after the Rochdale game, we have a squad that’s not had a proper preseason, is still struggling for match fitness and it’s likely to take the rest of October to fix. Despite the Burton postponement, we still have 4 league games in October...
It doesn’t end there. Just to spice up the challenge, Bolton’s injury curse has well and truly stuck the boot in again. We currently have 8 players out injured, although 6 are expected to return this month, with the unlucky Connor Hall & RTA casualty Joe Bunney out for longer.
There is good news in that we are told there are still two spaces to fill in our embargo limited squad. The down side is that whoever comes in will also need time to get match fit. Assuming the injured players return soon, defence is pretty much sorted. The club have made it known that they’re after Ben Marshall, another winger, so it’s safe to say that Hill believes midfield still needs bolstering. We plainly need a prolific goal scorer if we are to rattle up those points. Once again though the embargo impacts, with another limitation being a salary cap. Strikers, especially good ones, are in short supply and therefore an expensive commodity, be it a transfer fee or salary or both. So if even if a striker is available, he may not be interested in what we have to offer. No one said this was going to be easy.
So can Hill achieve mission impossible and keep the Wanderers in League One? As mentioned earlier, this newly acquired squad will need another month before it’s up to speed. So more points could be lost over the next 4 games resulting in us possibly need two full points per game by the end of October. That really is automatic promotion form. It also clearly shows that Bolton can’t just tick over until the January transfer window. Even this early in the season, time is absolutely not on our side. Our best hope is to get a good run going and then be an attractive proposition to potential signings by the time the January window opens.
On the plus side is the fact that Hill is having a real go at it, trying to get the team playing attractive attacking football and he does have both the club and fans fully onside. If he can get this team up & running then it could become an unstoppable train. Can he build up that head of steam though, that’s the million dollar question.