Three games to go. All to play for. Not phrases you would have expected to associate with Bolton Wanderers a few weeks ago. But after an outstanding sequence of home wins and with those in the play off places faltering, the Whites have an unexpected chance of returning to the Premier League at the first attempt.
Unfortunately, the next opponents are Middlesbrough, a side that Bolton has struggled to beat at home, despite the Teesside outfit being stunningly mediocre. Dates: 12th May 2005; 16th September 2006; 11th November 2007. Results: 0-0; 0-0; 0-0. There was also a 1-1 draw in May 2005 with attention focused on the then newly appointed England manager, Steve McClaren, who had been preferred to Sam Allardyce by the lunatics at the FA.
There have been exceptions. Mystic Megson managed a 4-1 win over the Smoggies, but then the ‘Boro effect kicked in again. His side didn’t win another game for the rest of the season.
Also, back in 2003 Bolton triumphed 2-1 to stay in the top flight with goals from Per Frandsen and an on-fire Jay Jay Okocha, although a strike from lard bucket Michael Ricketts made for a nervous last few minutes. A full and fervent Reebok Stadium witnessed Okocha and Sam Allardyce conducting a victory jig after the final whistle to celebrate success. Oh, for that atmosphere now.
The Reebok has been quiet for much of this season. There are reasons for that. Results have been excellent of late, but performances patchy. Bolton can look accomplished at times, but that standard is not maintained throughout the ninety minutes.
The game against Wolves was a case in point. It’s no exaggeration to say that Dougie Freedman’s men could have been five up after fifteen minutes. But with a two goal lead they sat back after half an hour with the job done. There seems to be a lack of passion, or perhaps belief, on the pitch, and that’s reflected on the terraces. The divisions between Wanderers fans that surfaced in Megson’s time are still in evidence too.
With that in mind, a rallying call from the Reebok top brass was appropriate. Enter Phil Gartside on Twitter. “Believe,” tweeted the Bolton chairman late on Saturday evening. So far so good, but a mere six minutes later he went into sulk mode on receiving a reply that wasn’t as sycophantic as he’d hoped. “Why do we have such negative support,” pouted Garty, prompting speculation that he wasn’t entirely sober.
Gobby Gartside maintained Twitter silence in the months when Bolton were rooted in lower mid-table. Perhaps it would have been better if he’d stayed that way. One yearns for a figure like Bruce Rioch who could unify supporters behind the club.
With only two league wins in 2013, Middlesbrough have their own problems So much so, that manager Tony Mowbray, has had to state his continuing commitment to the job. “I’m a fighter, I’m not going to walk away from anything,” said the man who has mislaid his false teeth.
“I’ll never give in. You’d have to ask the chairman about my future. If he feels someone can come in and do a better job, that’s his prerogative.”
With a full squad to pick from, one would fancy Freedman’s men to continue their home winning streak, but the wretched run of injuries experienced by Owen Coyle has continued. David N’Gog is out for the season as are Mark Davies and Keith Andrews, while Jay Spearing will be missing for three weeks with a broken toe. That breaks up the battling partnership forged with Medo Kamara in the centre of the park. Spearing’s absence gives academy graduate Josh Vela a chance to shine, with Darren Pratley also competing for the midfield berth.
There may be a place for the out of favour Kevin Davies. The Wanderers captain has been unfairly maligned this season. A Bolton side in transition no longer plays to his strengths. He still has a role to play though, and it would be a fitting end to his time at the club if he can lead a late promotion charge.
Whether or not that happens, there is still cause for optimism. A place in the play offs would be a significant achievement, but if that doesn’t happen then there is a platform from which to build next season.
There are nervy times ahead over the next few weeks. It’s time for one last push, from the players and the fans. Come On You White Men.
– Richard McCormick