On the cusp of what will possibly be the first season in over six years that hasn’t been overshadowed by off field events, its preseason predictions time.
As ever, I will be hoping for an assured commanding Gilks like set of predictions that I can loudly shout about come next May. However, I fear a Cullins ‘he doesn’t know what he’s doing’ fumblethon travesty before August is out, such are the unknowns at time of writing. This Bolton squad has a lot of potential but that can go either way. Hopefully, with the highly rated Chris Markham on board, Evatt has found a successful formula, unlike the Phoenix disaster 12 months ago. We will have a good idea come the end of August.
George Johnston. Our central defence needed more quality to backup the reliable veteran Baptiste and rising star Santos and this fella brings that in spades. A hugely surprising signing, stolen from under the nose of post admin free spending Wigan. George has serious pedigree and has already proven himself at this level. Preseason has shown that this left sided centre back is in the mood to continue that great form for us. Johnston puts our centre backs on a par with central midfield as parts of our squad that truly are of a promotion standard.
Eoin Doyle. Seriously though, who else is likely to out score him, barring him being long term injured? He may be 33 but the Irish legend has done it at this level before and will again. There are rumours at time of writing that another striker will be signed, and if true that will likely be a young loanee. Whilst another Sturridge type youngster will be nice, that’s pretty unlikely to happen in League One. I have a hunch that we will see more goals coming from elsewhere in the team this season, but Doyler will top the chart once again come May.
Game you’re looking forward to most
For a Bolton fan living down south, this season comes bearing multiple gifts of clubs nearby, where I can just pop round to watch the Wanderers. But it gets better, because Oxford, Wycombe & the MK Dons are good teams who will all pose a significant footballing challenge to Ian Evatt’s ambitions & give the prospect of witnessing an exciting football match. No buses parked, agricultural challenges & long thrown in humdrum this time round.
But of the above three, my favourite has to be the return to Adams park against the Choirboys. Wycombe were the perfect hosts for a club in the depths of administration and what was a ridiculous men v boys game thrust upon both clubs by the EFL. Our boys and our fans did us proud that day, but it will be nice to return on more even terms this time round.
Opposing player you’d love
Barry Bannan. Who can forget his classy performances for Bolton in that final season before Eddie Davies completely turned off the money tap and calamity struck. Both him and Le Fondre gelled and promised much. But alas both were gone by the time the next season arrived. Anyhow, since then Bannan has spent six seasons at Sheffield Wednesday, but is still somehow just 31. Evatt has assembled a fantastic midfield giving Bolton a real Rolls Royce feel at this level. But Bannan would walk straight into our side. If it wasn’t for a high chance that the Owls finances will spiral out of control in a Boltonesque way, then I could quite easily see Barry taking them back up almost single handily.
Key player this season
Josh Sheehan. Thomason is still learning his trade and Tutte, although a favourite of mine, is more back up than first XI, so Sheehan is the experienced playmaker and midfield engine that we so need. A superb passer of the ball as well and looking to make the step up after dominating in League Two last season. Alongside MJ and Sarce, I think Bolton have a truly formidable midfield three. When you see that players such as Lee, Thomason and Tutte are backups, we really are spoilt for choice. However, the reason I see Sheehan as key, is my belief that he may also help Bolton finally unlock a more free scoring team.
Predict the first six games
I’m utterly hopeless at this as my predictions last season bear witness, as I usually let preseason optimism win the day. So I will try to be be more realistic this time round.
MK Dons (H) 4-0
AFC Wimbledon (A) 0-4
Lincoln City (A) 4-0
Oxford United (H) 4-0
Cambridge United (A) 0-4
Burton Albion (H) 4-0
On a serious note, I genuinely do think that we have an easy start. MK Dons may be manager-less but they are still a very good team. I think that we will do well to hold them to a draw on Saturday. I reckon that Lincoln will be too good for us, but can see Bolton winning the other four games. 13 points from 6 games will be phenomenal, but there are a whole bunch of clubs in this league who will be no pushovers. September will be a different story and possibly a big come down if our squad isn’t strengthened further.
Final league position
Tenth. Whilst this Bolton team are a far more formidable and gelled unit than this time last year, we are still lacking quality players to turn this squad into realistic promotion contenders. I think that we need another goalie, two fullbacks, a winger (if Politic needs a few months more before being L1 match ready) and a striker. Particularly a striker. Whilst Bakayoko may be a useful Plan B, we need a another Plan A. No Doyle means not enough goals and likely mid table obscurity.
With almost four weeks left in the transfer window, so much can change. Long term injuries and unexpected player failure or indeed success will heavily influence what happens next. Additionally, it looks like we will have to move on a few fringe players before we can bring others in. I see this season as one of continued rebuilding, with hopefully a squad coming together to have a good go at straight promotion next season.
Any other business prediction
Staff. We need them in all areas of the club. Six years of no investment, a rogue owner and administration has taken our club to a long term footballing ICU. We may be off the critical list now, but the place is still being run with a skeleton crew and needs to be fully functioning again. I’m hopeful that FV are fully aware of this fact and that we will see our club coming truly back to life as this season progresses. Fans being allowed back into the stadium will certainly help that process.