5 March ~ Bolton's first full season following the departure of He Who Must Not Be Named has been a cracker. It has been a couple of years since we have gone into a league fixture being ahead of our opponents today, Aston Villa, and we were unfortunate not to come away with more than a point from the game in September, Gerard Houllier’s first in charge. Owen Coyle has moulded his team from relegation candidates to mid-table (at worst) in a short space of time. We’re now playing some excellent football, and seem to be getting credit for it at last.
Coyle’s masterstroke however has been Stuart Holden. Brought in on a free from MLS, Holden has become the fulcrum of our side, tackling ferociously and attacking with intent – had he been playing for a "big" club he’d be in with a shout of PFA Player of the Year. Mark Davies deserves a mention too; his mobility and skill with the ball at his feet make him one to watch.
Bolton fans began the season just hoping to stay above the drop, with an eye on mid-table, and we find ourselves with a good chance of playing in Europe next season, which would be a magnificent achievement for the club. I think we can do it, as upcoming fixtures (barring Man Utd and Arsenal) are all winnable. With this, fan expectation has grown, so the grumbles after the “failure” to get three points against a ten-man Newcastle can be viewed either as a sign of how our standards have improved or as how we’re getting a little carried away.
I expect another summer of frugality, though should anyone be daft enough to pay over £12m for Gary Cahill then expect Coyle to reinvest with a new forward line being the priority. For all the Johan Elmander contract rumblings there can also be a case made that Kevin Davies is reaching the end of his shelf-life – his performances over the season suggest that seven years of hard graft are beginning to take their toll. Although we don’t know how long we’ll keep Owen Coyle, we’ll certainly enjoy the ride. Chris Manning