There will be no Halloween hangover for Coyle and Co. as Bolton seek vengeance for last season's FA Cup semi-final horror show defeat against Stoke.
There is a devilish irony in the fact that Bolton face Stoke at the tail end of a week that commenced with Halloween, given the horror show that has been the performances since the FA Cup semi-final drubbing by the Potters back in April.
Consequent showings at the end of last season were bad enough but a ghoulish league run of two victories, no draws and eight defeats this season have left a cloud of unease and angst hanging heavily over the Reebok as winter draws in.
Unwanted stats are repeated with hideous regularity by the local and national press but perhaps the worst stat of all came on Tuesday with the news that the club is now in debt to the tune of £110.6 million (£17 million more than last season).
Phil Gartside will find that his claims that this is not a concern as the debt is to club owner Eddie Davies rather than a bank will not be shared by most of the fans. The fact of the matter is that, as just about every fan in the vicinity will attest, if Bolton lose their Premiership status the club will most probably implode in a manner that doesn’t bear thinking about. That has added considerable fuel to the fire of those who believe it is time for Owen Coyle to leave and that type of blinkered derision pushes me headlong into rant mode yet again.
I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again – Owen Coyle is the right man for Bolton and simply must stay. The insipid idiots who are suggesting this should actually pause for a minute, engage the brain before the gob and think about things very, very carefully. To sack him would be a heinous error of misjudgement and lunacy by the board.
I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again – Owen Coyle is the right man for Bolton and simply must stay
Who will replace him? Who will turn the team around in a manner which Coyle couldn’t? Who will work miracles with a squad shorn of confidence, cohesion and leadership? If anyone can think of an ideal candidate, please let me know as I’m really struggling here.
To my mind, the one thing he absolutely must do to turn things around is to find a settled and effective starting XI. Easier said than done given injuries, suspensions and the wretched form of some players but that is crucial to how the remainder of the season will pan out.
Every element of the team has been altered to some degree and still, in November, there is no sign of a settled and consistent unit. As things stand right now the only player guaranteed his place is David Wheater and it is appalling to think that the uncompromising Teesider is the only player to have seized an opportunity to make the transition from the bench into first team regular.
The list of disappointments this season is longer than Miranda Hart’s socks and I make no apologies for naming Robinson, Knight, Cahill, Boyata, Muamba, Eagles, Petrov, Mark Davies, Klasnic and Ngog as individuals who absolutely should be doing better. Coyle has even dabbled with the seemingly unthinkable act of dropping the talismanic Kevin Davies, albeit to no avail.
Every element of the team has been altered to some degree and still, in November, there is no sign of a settled and consistent unit
Coyle is keen to shoulder all the blame and that is correct to a degree. It is, after all, he that dictates the tactics and style of play. It is he who should be taking the underperforming players to task. It is he who took most of the plaudits for the style of play for two thirds of last season and therefore has to take the rough with the smooth. But the players simply have to take accountability. I’m no football manager (not since the days of Kevin Toms’ ‘Football Manager’ game on the ZX Spectrum – a real head-scratcher of a reference for those of you under the age of 35…) though I would certainly ditch Robinson and Petrov, who have woefully underperformed over the past couple of months.
And so onto the visit of Stoke. An opportunity to banish the still ever so vivid memories of April or the latest in a long line of wretched results? I have to remain optimistic and predict a home win. Stoke are a curious beast this season, at times playing at their familiar best but all too often wearing the look of a jaded and ill-equipped unit. I actually believe the summer signings, which looked excellent pieces of business at the time, have disrupted the cohesion and effectiveness of the team. Add to that the oft-quoted excuse of Europa League hangovers and the team suddenly doesn’t look as steely and solid.
Their dismantling by Newcastle last Monday simply wouldn’t have happened a season or two ago and the added factor of a Thursday trip to Israel should leave Bolton feeling reasonably confident of getting something from this game. The rumour is that Owen Coyle will give Tuncay a rare start but, in truth, gauging the Bolton starting line-up these days takes prediction skills of an unearthly level.
Whatever the starting line-up, a win is absolutely vital (and I’m now getting increasingly tired of wheeling out that line). The prediction is a 2-0 home win with goals from Tuncay and Eagles, though that prediction is borne more from hope (desperation?) than expectation...
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