THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Teams meet in the Championship today

icon champ27 September ~ Bolton Wanderers and Derby County go into this afternoon's game at the Macron Stadium after contrasting openings to their respective Championship campaigns, but there are similarities between the two sides that the home fans would do well to observe. Derby sit just off the early pace set by leaders Nottingham Forest having lost just once in their opening eight games, while Bolton take up an increasingly familiar position on the fringes of the bottom three after collecting just five points from a possible 18.

Not that the slow start is anything new for Bolton supporters, whose side have averaged less than a point a game from their opening eight fixtures over the last four seasons. Previous manager Owen Coyle paid with his side's Premier League status and his job, while the lobby to relieve current incumbent Dougie Freedman of his duties has been gathering momentum since last season, when Wanderers managed just one win before November. However, while much of the home support's ire is understandable, it might be worth looking to today's visitors for some reassurance.

Following relegation from the Premier League in 2008, Derby toiled at the wrong end of the Championship for three seasons before they began to trouble the top half of the table. Last season's close-run but ultimately ill-fated promotion push was the culmination of four years of gradual improvement under Nigel Clough that were characterised by high player turnover, loan signings and largely nominal transfer fees.

Steve McClaren's impact following Clough's dismissal a year ago this weekend appeared immediate, but the strides Derby made last season would not have been possible without his predecessor, who left behind a strong, together squad built around players from Coventry, Watford, Burton Albion and Kilmarnock.  

If none of this sounds familiar to Bolton supporters, it certainly should. Freedman has overseen the departure of more than 20 players in less than two years, but has struggled to temper expectation in the stands despite replacing them with loan signings and free transfers from Crystal Palace, Leicester, Millwall and Charlton. The result is a side that works hard but all too often lacks quality, and it's clear that things are not going to change overnight.

Derby go into today's game strong favourites, but they've only won once in Bolton since 1993 and the home side won't make things easy. For all their shortcomings this season, Wanderers could well have found themselves further up the table granted more luck, particularly against Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. Bolton will be heavily reliant on Lee Chung-Yong and Mark Davies for creativity in midfield and, with Craig Davies unlikely to suddenly find the goals to match his work rate, Freedman will look to Cardiff loanee Joe Mason to provide the goal threat.

At the end of last season, Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson was quick to point to the hard work that preceded his side's promotion to the Premier League: "People want to talk about this season in isolation but it is not actually about that. It is about what has been done over the last two and a half years... One of the biggest jobs when you take over a club is to get rid of what you don't want." For Bolton supporters, it might be worth taking note of Derby and Leicester, showing a little patience and getting behind their club during the most difficult period in its recent history. Jon Callow

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