Bolton Wanderers Season in Review 2012/13: Play-off story is so near, yet so far for Trotters

By John McDougall & Sam Ruffe

Having dropped out of the Premier League after an 11-year stay, Bolton Wanderers looked to bounce back from relegation to the Championship at the first attempt.

However, a disappointing start to their campaign saw the club sack Owen Coyle and bring in fellow Scot Dougie Freedman to revitalise their season.

Freedman instilled a new playing style at the Reebok Stadium which saw them climb the table and just miss out on a play-off spot on a dramatic last day.

Here MM takes a look back at Bolton’s rollercoaster season.


Looking to put the disappointment of relegation firmly behind them, Coyle and his Trotters commenced their 2012/13 season in promising fashion.

Despite a heavy loss against Portsmouth, the Whites notched up pre-season victories against Morecambe and Tranmere Rovers and a deserved draw against Barcelona B.

However, Bolton would soon learn the rigors of the Championship, as Burnley’s Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin both scored to hand the Trotters an opening day defeat.

But Bolton finished August on a high with victory over Derby County and a well-earned point against Nottingham Forest before Jay Spearing and Benik Afobe both joined on loan.


Despite Chris Eagles’ 35-yard free kick, the Whites started September losing to Hull City, as former Bolton centre-back Abdoulaye Faye scored to give the Tigers a 3-1 victory.

A week later, Coyle’s men recovered well from the loss as a first Bolton goal for Matt Mills and a Kevin Davies strike secured three points against Watford.

However, in what would become an all too familiar story, September was dogged by inconsistent performances as the Watford victory was swiftly followed by an away loss to Birmingham City.

Mark Davies proved instrumental against Sheffield Wednesday as Bolton earned their first away points of the campaign, however they lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace a week later.


October began in similar fashion as Bolton drew 2-2 with Leeds United before a last minute Darius Henderson strike gave Millwall victory to pile further pressure on the Trotters.

The loss meant the Whites sat in a lowly 18th place going into the international break and just three days later, on October 9, Coyle was relieved of his duties.

Academy Director Jimmy Phillips and head of Academy Coaching and Development, and former club manager, Sammy Lee were placed in temporary charge.

The change in personnel appeared to be the tonic for Bolton’s ailing season as they oversaw victory against Bristol City and a hard-fought away draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Shortly after the Wolves fixture, Bolton announced that Crystal Palace manager Freedman would take over at the Reebok.

However the Scot, who was officially unveiled on October 25, watched on from the Riverside Stadium stands as his new club ended the month losing 2-1 to Middlesbrough.


Freedman’s first game at the helm ended with a much-needed 2-1 victory against then league leaders Cardiff City.

Substitutes Martin Petrov and David N’Gog both netted to steady Bolton’s season and give Freedman the perfect start to his tenure.

But a string of draws against Leicester City, Blackpool, Barnsley and Brighton and Hove Albion meant the Whites remained stranded in 18th in the Championship table.

However the Whites ended November unbeaten as Kevin Davies’ sixth goal of the season secured victory over Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers.


December saw Bolton’s inconsistent form continue as a 2-1 loss at the Reebok against Ipswich Town ended Freedman’s unbeaten run.

A late goal from Huddersfield Town’s James Vaughan snatched all three away points from the Trotters a week later, before responding well with a deserved home win against Charlton Athletic.

The victory moved Bolton up to 13th in the league, however narrow defeats to Peterborough United and Sheffield Wednesday followed.

Bolton ended 2012 on a high though as Marcos Alonso, Chung-Yong Lee and Keith Andrews combined to overcome Birmingham City and leave the Trotters eight points off the play-offs in 14th.


The New Year began with defeat to Leeds United at Elland Road as the Trotters slipped to 16th in the Championship table while the January transfer window opened.

Veteran Bulgarian winger Petrov left Bolton for Espanyol, but striker Craig Davies was brought in from Barnsley and centre-half Craig Dawson arrived on loan from West Bromwich Albion.

In the league, back-to-back draws against Millwall and Freedman’s former club Palace saw Wanderers end January without a league win.

After overcoming Sunderland in a third round FA Cup replay at the Stadium of Light, the Whites bowed out in the next round to Everton.

Marvin Sordell cancelled out Steven Pienaar’s opener, but a stoppage time winner from John Heitinga ensured the Premier League side went through.


Wanderers kicked off February with defeat to Gianfranco Zola’s promotion-chasing Watford at Vicarage Road and fell to 20th in the table and three points from the relegation zone.

But the Trotters bounced back in a Lancashire derby with Burnley at the Reebok Stadium, N’Gog scoring a crucial late winner.

Successive trips to the East Midlands to play Nottingham Forest and Derby County ended in draws as the Whites went unbeaten in three.

And Wanderers’ impressive home form continued with back-to-back wins over Hull City and Peterborough United, lifting the Trotters to tenth in the Championship table.


March began with the devastating news that influential midfielder Mark Davies was out for up to ten months with anterior cruciate ligament damage.

But the news didn’t seem to halt Wanderers’ charge towards the play-offs as Dawson scored the winner in a 3-2 victory over struggling Barnsley at Oakwell.

It was the first of three wins in eight days for Bolton as home victories over Blackburn and Brighton took them to within three points of the play-offs.

However their charge stuttered with successive away defeats to Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic, where Wanderers ended the game with nine men. 

Bolton also announced captain Kevin Davies would not be offered a new deal and would leave the club at the end of the season after a ten-year stay.   


As crunch time approached, Bolton got off to the best possible start with successive home wins over Huddersfield and Wolves as their impressive home form continued.

This was followed up with victory over Bristol City at Ashton Gate, Craig Davies’ penalty securing the win which took Wanderers into a play-off spot.

But Leicester City pushed Bolton back out with a 3-2 win at the King Power Stadium, a game that saw N’Gog ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury. 

In an unbelievably tight season though, Bolton crept back up to sixth after beating ten-man Middlesbrough at the Reebok, Sordell’s penalty securing their eighth successive home win. 

In their final away game the Trotters drew away with champions Cardiff City, keeping them ahead of Nottingham Forest on goal difference.

Off the pitch, skipper Davies’ proposed move to the MLS and Toronto FC collapsed, leaving the 36-year-old still searching for a new club.  


Bolton went into the final day of the Championship season knowing a home victory over Blackpool would all but guarantee them a play-off spot.

But if the Trotters slipped up, an East Midlands derby between Forest and Leicester at the City Ground would decide who would take the final play-off spot.

In an afternoon that ebbed and flowed, the Whites trailed the Seasiders thanks to goals from Matt Phillips and Ludovic Sylvestre.

However, Bolton rallied and scored two first-half stoppage time goals through Chris Eagles and Craig Davies, but had to settle for a point and hope results elsewhere went their way.

But Anthony Knockaert’s injury-time winner at the City Ground gave Leicester victory over their East Midlands rivals and the crucial final play-off spot on goal difference.

Despite missing out on promotion, Bolton ended the season with the second-best home record in the division behind champions Cardiff.

Though disappointed, Freedman admitted pride at his side’s achievement and will bring in more young players next season to help them get back to the Premier League.

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