Exits, arrivals and the promise of youth: A Bolton Wanderers season preview

By Rob Latham, @robilaz

Following another summer of disappointment for England fans, there is a welcome tonic with the return of the domestic season on Friday (August 8). Bolton Wanderers supporters have endured another summer of concern, with yet more senior pros leaving the club and a few new names coming in to strengthen the squad following a disappointing campaign last time out.

The biggest change at the club heading into the new season is yet another change in sponsorship. Adidas has been ousted as kit maker by Macron and, fairly controversially to many supporters, the Italian firm has also purchased the naming rights to the Lancashire club’s iconic stadium, which has been lovingly known to many as ‘the Reebok’ since being built in 1997. Quite how Bolton fans adjust to the Macron Stadium remains to be seen, but if the new kit designs are anything to go by then it could well be hugely positive.

Moving on to the personnel, below is an overview of the main ins and outs and a look at the Bolton youngsters who may need to step up to the big time when The Trotters’ season kicks off at Watford on Saturday, August 9th.

More major exits

Since Wanderers exited the Premier League in 2012, the club has seen an exodus of household names as it battles to reduce the wage bill and fight its booming debt.This pre-season has been no different, with captain Zat Knight and perennial disappointment Chris Eagles leading the names heading through the exit door.

The permanently injured Tyrone Mears was also allowed to leave on a free transfer, while Alex Baptiste was loaned out to local rivals Blackburn Rovers and Keith Andrews was farmed out to Watford on loan. Marvin Sordell, who spent last season at Charlton Athletic and clearly wasn’t keen on life at Bolton, was also sold on to a Lancashire club in Premier League newbies Burnley.

Stuart Holden, who has played just one match since a series of knee injuries put hold on his career three years ago, has also departed. Rumours are that he remains in training with the club, and his 22 squad number has not been re-allocated. It remains to be seen whether Holden will ever be able resume his first-class career, but it would be fantastic to see him back at the club.

These departures hint at manager Dougie Freedman aiming for a fresh start after a hugely disappointing first full season in charge, in which Bolton had their eyes fixed on avoiding relegation as opposed to the early season expectations of chasing promotion.

Many of us Bolton fans may have expected a few more names to follow these players out of the door, but the likes of the highly paid, largely disappointing and often uninterested Chung-Yong Lee and the clueless Darren Pratley still remain at the club. Freeing up the steep wages these players are on would really help Bolton strengthen in the last month of the transfer window.

Fresh new faces

Freedman’s key aims for this pre-season were to sure up Wanderers’ consistently leaky defence and finding a striker to bang in the goals to fuel a promotion push.

The first objective looks to have been addressed, with the signing of Charlton centre-back Dorian Dervite. The former French under-21 international, who came through the Spurs youth ranks, is a strong centre half who is also decent on the ball, so hopefully he can bring a little more composure to an often shaky backline.

Freedman has also looked to bring experience to the defence in the form of Crystal Palace’s Dean Moxey and Cardiff full-back Kevin McNaughton on a season-long loan deal. Moxey played all bar one of Palace’s opening 17 Premier League matches, so should bring a bit of class to the Bolton defence. McNaughton impressed during a brief loan spell at the Reebok last season, and this should prove to be a shrewd signing as the prematurely silver-tinted full back can play on either flank of the defence.

The pursuit of striking options has been less successful, with Wanderers so far failing to sign a forward. Jermaine Beckford and Craig Davies are hardly going to strike fear into the hearts of any Championship defence, so additions are much needed. A pure lack of funds saw Wanderers miss out on number one target Lukas Jutkiewicz, who instead joined Burnley. Freedman will no doubt be forced back into the loan market for a striker when Premier League cast-offs become available, and a return to the club for Joe Mason remains a possibility while rumours have also circulated that Glenn Murray, Freedman’s old pal from his Palace days, could be a target.

Bolton have added to their ranks in the midfield area though, with Liam Trotter and Liam Feeney, both from Millwall, and Leicester’s Neil Danns all joining following loan spells at the club last season. Feeney impressed at the Reebok last January with his direct wing play while Danns offered a creative spark rarely seen through the rest of the team, but the signing of Trotter is baffling given his poor performances last season.

The prospect of youth

Freedman has hinted that youngsters will be given a chance with his pre-season friendly

selections. The likes of Joe Riley and Josh Vela, who have suffered dreadfully with injuries in the past few seasons, along with Georg Iliev, Oscar Threlkeld and Zach Clough have all been given first-team minutes and largely impressed. Indeed, Clough scored Wanderers’ only goal in a draw with Macclesfield.

Additional youngsters like left-back Andrew Kellett and attacking midfielder Sanmi Odelusi, who enjoyed a few league appearances last season, also have potential to make the first-team this time around. It is perhaps more likely these youngsters will end up being sent out to gain first-team minutes, and right-back Riley has already joined Oxford United on loan.

One thing is for sure, Wanderers fans will not be disappointed to see youth given a chance, with many certain the youngsters can’t do a worse job than the disappointing senior pros. Clough in particular is one to watch, and there is an argument that there is more value in giving him a chance than persisting with Chung Yong-Lee, who was hugely disappointing last season and had a particularly uninspiring World Cup.

Overall Wanderers have made some decent signings, and made the right decision to let several of their higher earning players move on. With a bit of luck, and if giving youth a chance pays off, a promising season could be ahead. And surely, surely things can’t be as bad as last season?

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