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LOV Bolton Wanderers predictions 22/23: Lee

Lee attempts to predict how Bolton will fare this season

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

It’s that time of year again, folks. Once again another football season is right around the corner and as we do every year, all the writers here at LOV are going to try and predict how the season will go for Bolton.

Next up is Lee:

Best signing

It is probably a bit safe and boring to pick the re-signing of a loanee for this category. And a goalkeeper to boot. But in Manchester City’s England under 21 international James Trafford, we have someone who has the tools and attitude to go right to the top of the game.

The reality is that the goalkeeper in any successful side is a vitally important cog that can win and lose a side points single handedly. And it looks to me as if we’ve done the best possible business in bringing him back.

The re-signing of the quirky Cumbrian, fresh from signing a renewed five year deal at the most consistent club side in the world, no less, is certainly a statement of intent.

There were errors in distribution at MK Dons and at Doncaster which illustrate his need for focus and improvement in that area of his game. But he’s still only a child in goalkeeping terms at just 19, with Trafford’s form between the sticks increasingly taking the eye, as the Whites finished the season with a bang.

His infectious personality and clear belief in his own ability manifested into a confident and composed presence, behind what was a back three that finished the season. To have that back in place for the whole season, without interruption, is a huge plus. It should give confidence to the rest of the defence and also seems to have produced an upturn in understudy Joel Dixon’s form, with some encouraging pre-season displays.

There’s nowt sexy about goalkeepers. But when you get a good ‘un, it ain’t half important to keep hold of them. He might not be ours in the long-term, but he’s definitely ours for the whole of this campaign, and the certainty of that could be pivotal.

Top Scorer

For the first time in maybe a decade, it is genuinely a tricky job to pick one. The plethora of options for Evatt bodes really well, with all of Dion Charles, Amadou Bakayoko, Elias Kachunga, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Dapo Afolayan finding the net in pre-season, after Bodvarsson and Bakayoko, in particular, both finished last season with a flourish.

Charles, you’d have to think, is probably the one of the 4 forwards (with Dapo perhaps considered more as a no.10 in the main) that would be best placed to be first choice, and with that fact, becomes the most likely to take the honour. His relentless pressing, insatiable work rate and overall pest factor, coupled with his undoubted eye for goal, is like catnip for Evatt and how he now wants his team to press high and win the ball back quickly to hurt teams.

A good number of goals came from his intelligent pressing, the barely-believable tackle-goal against Fleetwood on the final day an excellent example of how he can truly make something out of nothing.

As long as he can stay injury free, and hopefully not replicate the barren spell he endured before his brace against the Cod Army, he should be able to go at least one better than the 19 league goals he hit under John Coleman at Accrington in the 2020/21 campaign.

Bakayoko might have something to say about reaching 20 goals, too, given his nickname, but the Northern Irish international Charles is the safer bet to be the first to hit that total since Super John McGinlay bagged 24 league goals in the Championship winning final season at Burnden Park in 1996/97.

That a Wanderer hasn’t managed to score over twenty league goals in over a quarter of a century is sacrilege, really, although a big portion of that time being being spent in the Premier League does give the statistic some context. It isn’t a prerequisite of promotion that a striker reaches that mythical landmark. It would certainly help, though, and it’s definitely time someone put that right.

I’m backing Dion to be that man.

Game I’m most looking forward to

Without the increasingly poisonous local derby against Wigan to look forward to/dread, the options in terms of local rivalries are left to Accrington, Morecambe and Fleetwood. We were the better side at home against all three and took 7 points, but our trips to these three yielded a sum total of one, solitary point.

These games rarely whet the appetite like a Wigan or a Blackburn, though, so my pick is based on my adoration of Boxing Day football. Derby’s visit to the UniBol should be a real humdinger. It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper firecracker of a game at home on the most traditional of football days, and this one really fits the bill.

Opposing player I’d love

Last season I named Scott Twine at MK Dons as my one player I’d love to have seen at Bolton, and he didn’t do too badly, sweeping the board as League One player of the season at the PFA awards. This time round it’d be a player who would fit our right wing back spot down to a tee, in Ipswich’s direct and pacy winger Wes Burns.

While I have high hopes for Conor Bradley while he is here, a real undoubted star performer in that role would see us become almost impossible to stop. Burns is obviously a completely unrealistic target in reality, and isn’t one who we were ever going to be able to sign, despite previously playing in the North West for Fleetwood.

He caused us no end of issues at Portman Road last season, despite us romping to a 5-2 win eventually. He set up both goals with his wicked, whipped deliveries from the right flank and he also netted 12 times in 37 league games in total. He should be able to replicate that output in Kieran McKenna’s dominating and enterprising side.

I believe his battle with Declan John will go a long way to deciding the outcome of our opener with the Tractor Boys.

Key player

It has to be Rico, doesn’t it.

When he’s ‘on it’ he’s an immovable man-mountain, someone who isn’t going to get beaten by pace nor strength. But when his concentration lapses and his focus dulls, he can be an area of weakness that smart centre forwards can exploit.

If he can cut out that almost complacent sloppiness, he can lead us back to the second tier for the first time in five years.

Predict the first six games

A slowish start beckons, with 4 tough games in amongst a couple we really need to be winning, if we have designs on automatic promotion.

Ipswich (a) 2-1 win (Lee with a late winner!)

Wycombe (h) 0-1 defeat

Port Vale (a) 2-1 win

Morecambe (h) 2-0 win

Sheffield Wednesday (h) 1-1

Plymouth (a) 1-2 defeat

Final position

In reality, anything less than a play-off place will be considered a failure by the fans.Whether that is a fair expectation to be placed on the broad shoulders of Evatt, is debatable, given the comparative strength and experience of our divisional competitors.

The young boss has plenty of credit in the bank, especially after such a swashbuckling end to last season, but is prone to unnecessarily outlandish claims and squirm-worthy sound bites. These far-from-ideal idiosyncrasies have been dismissed thus far on the whole as naivety; bumps in the road from an inexperienced manager.

This is a crowd who, just a decade ago, waved goodbye to the Premier League after an eleven year stay and two European jaunts. We have aspirations of returning there at some point in the not too distant future, however unlikely that sounds at this juncture.

Sensible fans see that prudence is the buzz word and our new found self-sustainability mantra under the sensible and superb guidance of Sharon Brittan, coupled with the huge disparity to Championship budgets, and even some in our own league, means the promised land of the Premier League feels like a distant dot on the horizon at present.

However, a season of non-improvement, in terms of league position anyway, will unlikely be tolerated without fan unrest developing. The pressure for Evatt to turn his unrelenting bravado into something more measurable, is certainly ramping up.

I’ll go with 5th and a place in the excruciating, nail biting, heart pounding play-offs, where anything can happen.

Any other business prediction

Everton to finally fall down the trapdoor to relegation and Rico to go another season without scoring. I swear he’s cursed…