Successor will inherit strong squad
19 October ~ For all its inevitability, Owen Coyle's departure from Bolton Wanderers was tinged with sadness for supporters. Scorer of some memorable goals during a two-year spell at Bolton in the 1990s, Coyle was a popular appointment when Gary Megson's acrimonious tenure ended in January 2010. The atmosphere around the Reebok changed almost immediately and, though the results took a little time to improve, Coyle steered Bolton comfortably to safety.
By the first anniversary of his appointment, Coyle's brand of press-approved attacking football had his team in seventh place and the tabloids were lining him up as a future manager of Liverpool or Arsenal. But even when the going was good, cracks were starting to appear. Daniel Sturridge papered over them for a while, arriving in an inspired loan deal to inject vital goals into a stuttering season.
As Sturridge got them back on track in the league, Wanderers set about making headway in the FA Cup, with Coyle's finest hour coming in a thrilling 3-2 quarter-final win at Birmingham. However, the rot began to set in at Old Trafford a week later, when a horror tackle by Jonny Evans robbed Stuart Holden of more than 18 months of his career; a month later, the team were thrashed 5-0 by Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final.
Coyle's final season in the top flight wasn't helped by stringent summer cost-cutting and further long-term injuries to Lee Chung-Yong and Tyrone Mears but it was his aversion to change that ultimately cost him his job. The team struggled for creativity and lacked resilience to the point of defeatism. They shipped 21 goals in six games at the beginning of 2011-12 and hadn't shown much in the way of improvement by the time the season reached halfway. January briefly sparked fresh hope until a run of four straight defeats left them staring into the abyss.
An FA Cup quarter-final at Tottenham Hotspur put the doom and gloom into perspective. In the days following Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest, Owen Coyle made Bolton proud, putting aside on-field difficulties to offer heartfelt compassion and support to the stricken player and his family. Muamba's plight galvanised Bolton to take maximum points against relegation rivals Blackburn and Wolves but results quickly fell away again. The players picked a bad time to start eking out draws and Bolton's 11-year stay in the Premier League ended.
Back in the Championship, an abject opening day performance at Burnley eroded any remaining confidence in Coyle and the same old concerns returned. A paltry 11 points from their opening ten games, and Coyle's unflinching belief in an approach that was so palpably not working, left chairman Phil Gartside with little option.
Bolton go into Saturday's home game against Bristol City with former players Jimmy Phillips, Julian Darby and Sammy Lee in charge of first-team affairs and there is already a suggestion that training under the temporary regime has stepped up markedly, with greater emphasis on fitness and tactical awareness. The club have so far been patient in their search for the right man but Coyle's eventual successor stands to inherit a squad that belies its lowly standing in the Championship. Whoever it is, the fans are looking forward to starting the season again. Jon Callow