THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Burnley v Bolton, 3pm

icon champ218 August ~ Things are about to change at the Reebok Stadium. Rather than renewing admittedly one-sided rivalries with the Manchester clubs, Bolton Wanderers can instead look forward to facing Brighton and Peterborough for the first time in almost 20 years. Not that anyone has attached them to the phrase "too big for the Championship" – it is also eight years since Bolton last played Leeds, and 11 since they played Sheffield Wednesday or Nottingham Forest. The Championship may be relatively unfamiliar ground but it isn't without a cautionary tale or two.

At least Bolton will know what to expect at Burnley. The sides last met two years ago in a League Cup tie that cleared up any doubts Owen Coyle may have had about his standing in east Lancashire, following his move to Bolton in 2010. Defeat for the Turf Moor crowd that night was unthinkable, and the subsequent addition of Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears to the Reebok squad is unlikely to have tempered their still-simmering fury.

Burnley should be sharper because of their midweek Capital One Cup win at Port Vale and will be keen to make a good start to a season that may prove a struggle. Ross Wallace and Chris McCann are talented players and new captain Jason Shackell could be one of the Championship's signings of the season. However, Jay Rodriguez's £6 million move to Southampton leaves them heavily reliant on Charlie Austin's goals unless manager Eddie Howe can coax something from Sam Vokes.

Relegated after collecting just six points from their first ten games last season, Bolton know the importance of a good start as well as anyone. Despite some drastic cost-cutting in the summer, Coyle still has some quality at his disposal. In midfield Mark Davies, Martin Petrov and Lee Chung-Yong have the ability to be real stars this season, while Stuart Holden will be the best player in the division if he can finally return from an 18-month absence.

New signings Keith Andrews, Matt Mills and Andrew Lonergan look solid acquisitions, and Marvin Sordell will be keen to make up for lost time having featured more for Team GB than for Bolton since leaving Watford in January.

Captain Kevin Davies will be looking to end his career on a high note, while Arsenal youngster Benik Afobe will hope to kickstart his by making the same impact on loan at Bolton as Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge before him.

It is a big season for David Ngog, who has much to prove following a season of toil, while Darren Pratley will be out to rebuild his reputation back in the Championship after struggling to make his mark on the Premier League.

Bolton start the season with a young squad but arguably stronger than the one that was relegated in May. With Swansea already eyeing Mark Davies as a replacement for Joe Allen, and murmurings about Lee and Ngog, you sense that if they are to return to the Premier League, they had better make it at the first time of asking. Three points from a difficult opening fixture would be a step in the right direction. Jon Callow

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