Cast your minds back to 3rd October 2014. Wanderers sack Dougie Freedman after a poor run of form and sitting 23rd in the Championship with just five points from the opening ten league fixtures. With this, speculation began into who would take the job to get Bolton out of the bottom three and start to look up the table.
An Exciting Appointment
Jimmy Phillips was the early bookies’ favourite for the job and his name was thrown into the mix with the likes of Malky Mackay, Tony Mowbray, Chris Hughton and even an outside chance of current boss Keith Hill, according to Coral who had priced Hill at 16-1, interestingly.
As time passed and the Wanderers board had interviewed both Malky Mackay and Chris Hughton, a different name stepped forward - former Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. An appointment which excited the Wanderers fanbase, Lennon arrived in Bolton having won three league titles, two cups and had also lead Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League after their memorable victory over Barcelona. Lennon brought Johan Mjallby and Garry Parker along with him.
The Northern-Irishman’s first game in charge was a memorable trip away to Birmingham. It was here we learnt that things weren’t going to be boring around the club after a 1-0 win was accompanied with Lennon being sent to the stands for leaving his technical area too often. An animated manager with clear passion was something the Wanderers technical area had been lacking during Freedman’s tenure.
The appointment of Lennon seemed to turn things around relatively quickly at Wanderers. The Macron Stadium turned into a fortress as Bolton went unbeaten for Lennon’s first nine home games, including some memorable victories over Wigan Athletic and the Boxing Day win over Blackburn Rovers, witnessed by a season-high 23,203 attendance.
Like A Fine Wine
December 2014 was one of the most enjoyable months as a Bolton Wanderers fan. First, the re-signing of former club hero Eidur Gudjohnsen. A statement of intent from Lennon that he wanted to add attacking quality to his side. Following this signing, Eidur made his second Wanderers debut in the 0-0 draw at home to Ipswich. Then Christmas came a day early, in the form of Neil Lennon’s former teammate and England international, Emile Heskey. The target man signed for the club after impressing during a trial period. His debut, THAT Boxing Day fixture. Emile replaced Rob Hall at half time, and it took him less than 15 minutes to get on the end of an Eidur pass to slot the ball into the back of the Rovers’ net.
A Star Is Born
Bolton went into the New Year and the January transfer window in a fine run of form. The first game of 2015, an FA Cup tie and another visit from local rivals, Wigan. A surprise name was included on the team sheet, young forward Zach Clough. Well, what a performance. A goal scored that the onlooking Eidur and Emile would have been proud of, the puffed out cheeks and the arms raised either side of his head whilst running away to the corner of the South and West Stand. Truly a moment that Wanderers fans will remember fondly for a long time to come.
Wanderers faced Premier League giants Liverpool in the next round of the FA Cup. 6,000 travelling Wanderers fans made the trip down to Anfield to see a valiant display earning a replay back at the Macron. In a game which eventually assisted Adam Bogdan’s summer move to Liverpool after his stellar performance in both games. Bolton were knocked out of the cup after Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho scored late goals to send the Reds through after a Gudjohnsen opener and a Neil Danns red card.
The January transfer window saw only one permanent signing brought into the club, Filip Twardzik. Perhaps the less said about that the better. However, Lennon made a plethora of loan signings, two that specifically captured the hearts of the Wanderers fans, Barry Bannan and Adam Le Fondre. Both became key players for us throughout the remainder of the season, with the latter finishing as top scorer with eight goals and having formed a beautiful partnership with the aforementioned Zach Clough.
We couldn't go any further without talking about the most bizarre transfer deadline day story in the club’s recent history when Manchester United signed Andy Kellett on loan with Saidy Janko coming the other way. What a strange few hours that was!
Winter Deadline Day during this season also saw us lose Chung-Yong Lee to Crystal Palace for an undisclosed fee. It was clear he wasn't going to sign a new deal at a club that looked to be in decline. Although tough to take, every Bolton fan knew exactly what Chungy was capable of and that he deserved to be playing at a higher level.
Play Off Aspirations Vanished
Albeit slim, there was still a chance that Bolton could keep climbing the table and reach the heights of the Play Offs. Ten points adrift at the end of January was a tall order, but there was no doubt that if they put together a continued run of form that we had seen just a few months prior, it was possible. However, results and performances quickly declined. This included a defeat at the hands of former boss Dougie Freedman and Nottingham Forest. A game synonymous with a certain former England international striker playing centre back for the majority of the second half. Wanderers only picked up four wins throughout the remainder of the season. Wanderers finished the season in 18th place, ten points clear of the drop zone but 27 short of the Play Off positions.
New Season, New Squad
The summer of 2015 saw a mass exodus at Bolton. Eight first team players left the club and we waved goodbye to those loanees that had become a key part of the squad the season before. It was clear that by being unable to retain these players, we were going to find the upcoming season tougher than the one prior. Lennon brought in Ben Amos on a permanent *grits teeth* four year deal to replace the outgoing Adam Bogdan. Gary Madine, Derik Osede and Lawrie Wilson were the notable additions during the summer. It was apparent the squad had significantly lost quality.
Prince Désir-Gouano signed for Wanderers on loan from Atalanta the day prior to the start of the season. He was thrown in at the deep end with a visit from Derby County, a 0-0 draw and an exciting debut from the fastest central defender ever to play football certainly got my hopes up for the season ahead. These were short lived, it became obvious that you couldn't be so young and quick without having a mistake in there from time to time.
In September, Johan Mjallby quit his job as Assistant Manager for “family reasons.” Almost mirroring the start of Wanderers decline in performances and results on the pitch.
The first win of the season came along with the return of Adam Le Fondre. Le Fondre started upfront for Wanderers, albeit the ones that play in gold as Bolton beat Wolves 2-1 at the Macron Stadium, however did not win again until the final game of 2015.
The Beginning Of The End
December 2015 was much different to the previous year, although we had signed another Premier League veteran in the form of Shola Ameobi at the end of October, the only early Christmas presents Wanderers received was a winding-up petition and an embargo for the following month’s transfer window. Not only that, but we were without a win in 16 league games and were sat at the bottom of the table with 14 points from 23 games. Something needed to change, but due to the transfer restrictions, the club were stuck with what they had. Lennon finished 2015 with a win over Blackburn at home, after which he said that Wanderers have “been through hell” following the winless run and an internal investigation into allegations made by a newspaper into Neil Lennon’s private life.
It was around this time that Dean Holdsworth’s consortium were linked to taking over the club. In March 2016, Sports Shield had taken over. Perhaps the less said about that the better, as well. Shortly after, Lennon was relieved of his duties as Wanderers boss as Jimmy Phillips took over for the rest of the season, allowing the board to identify who was going to be next at the helm to take Bolton back to where they belonged to be.
I wanted the appointment of Neil Lennon to be a resounding success, but after writing this up, it really summarises just how bad it was. The relegation from the Championship was pathetic at best, but he will be remembered for his short temper in the technical area and his arguments with Gary Madine on the Sky cameras.
If you've got this far, I can only apologise for reminding you about some of the drivel we have had to deal with, and I’m not just talking about Wellington Silva, Paul Rachubka and Giles Coke (yes, all Lennon signings) but we did have some memorable moments under him.
Spoiler alert, at least the next chapter will have more cheerful moments to remember, as long as you censor out any mention of *** ********.