By Rob Latham @robilaz @TLE_Sport
Rooted to the bottom of the Championship. One league win from ten. Only eight league goals scored. It was clear something had to change at Bolton Wanderers.
The hierarchy eventually listened to calls from their supporters and parted way with Dougie Freedman following an abject 4-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Fulham just before the international break. And in the Scot’s place came Northern Irish manager Neil Lennon.
Lennon has immediately breathed life into a team, and indeed a club, that was dying a slow and painful death. This began with giving the players a much needed kick up the backside, as evidenced by the new boss banning players from wearing woolly hats during training sessions. As he rightly pointed out: “They don’t play matches in woolly hats, so why should they train in them?”
Wanderers fans were finally feeling a foreign sense of optimism as Lennon approached his first match in charge at Birmingham on Saturday. And that hope and belief proved to be well-founded as Bolton produced their best performance of the season as they claimed their first away clean sheet and first away win of the campaign thanks to a Matt Mills header.
That vital victory suddenly had Bolton fans dreaming again, and Lennon was suddenly the ‘Messiah of Bolton’ heading into another away game at Charlton on Tuesday evening. Hopes were high that the team could pick up another victory against a team that is flying high in the Championship and the performance certainly didn’t disappoint. Bolton bossed 62% of possession, outshot Charlton by 21 to six, and outscored their hosts on corners by 14 to one. However, football proved itself a funny old game as The Addicks somehow scraped a 2-1 win.
Lennon has worked wonders in transforming the mind-set and approach of several of Bolton’s key players, including Chung-Yong Lee and Neil Danns. Indeed, defender Mills has already spoken out about the effect the former Celtic player and manager is having on the squad.
Mills told the BBC: “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more inspirational person in terms of being a winner. It’s no surprise he’s had such a fantastic career himself when he was playing because of his love and passion for the game.
“I’m very, very happy to be working with him. In training the lads are buzzing. The manager has put his point across and it’s just a start really – we’re all excited for what can be achieved this season.”
This showed on Tuesday evening as the midfield duo of Lee and Danns were easily the best two players on the park. Despite the obviously disappointing result at Charlton, Bolton looked like a completely different team from the farce at Fulham. Players wanted the ball, they were passing it around with vigour and they were, generally, working hard.
Key players like Lee and Danns and, in particular, the strikers need confidence instilled in them if they are to start delivering killer balls and scoring goals that will turn dominant possession and shots into goals and wins. Lennon has clearly had a profound effect on the players and it is surely only a matter of time before Bolton climb clear of the relegation battle.