Comment: Lennon’s Bolton regime has been positive, but goodwill could soon run out

When Neil Lennon’s Bolton side left Birmingham having secured a win under his stewardship in his first game, they sat in 21st in the SkyBet Championship.

Those were gloriously heady heights in light of the miserable start to the season under his predecessor Dougie Freedman.

With Monday 12 marking the first anniversary of his reign, they sit one place below that, inside the relegation zone on goal difference, courtesy of a devastating late defeat at QPR that has filled Wanderers fans full of doubt.

On the face of it, any progress is at best imperceptible, but dig a little deeper, and the picture looks more favourable.

To crunch the numbers first of all, Lennon has taken charge of 45 league games now, just shy of a full season, taking 1.20 points per game.



Over a full season, that would reap 55 points, enough for an average league position of 17th over the past 10 Championship seasons, something that most Wanderers fans would grudgingly accept this season.

In truth, that is par for the course for Wanderers in their current state; whether it should be is essentially a moot point as far as Lennon is concerned, but more measurable is the progress from the fraught last days of Freedman’s reign.

Before Lennon took over, Bolton had won one of 11 games, and sat five points adrift of safety, but perhaps the most telling indicator of the misery of that autumn was that Wanderers sat beneath even Blackpool in the league table, unthinkable when you consider just how awful the Tangerines have been since then.

For the first 16 games of Lennon’s tenure, Bolton’s form was playoff-worthy, winning half their games and even securing a goalless draw at Anfield, a mark of just how much Wanderers’ defence had improved.

Less clever was the form between mid-January and the end of the season, when Bolton won just four of their last 20 games (and one of their last nine), a run of form only better than Wigan, Blackpool and Millwall, who paid the price with their Championship lives.

This season, Bolton might only have the same number of wins, but to dismiss any idea of progress out of hand would be churlish in the extreme.



Aside from a couple of recent blips, the defence has been shored up – in remarkably quick fashion, when you consider the continental ‘culture club’ that has been assembled at the Macron – and senior players such as Neil Danns and Mark Davies have emerged for the new season looking invigorated.

Goals, however, have continued to elude Bolton in desperate fashion, particularly this season.

Having scored just nine goals, only two clubs in the Football League have been more goal-shy, although a desperate injury list, particularly the continued absence of Zach Clough, provides considerable mitigation.

To describe the feeling at the Macron as optimistic would be stretching things slightly, but there’s a hopeful sense that Lennon is building something, a side whose default setting is steady and honest, and, the late horror-shows at Huddersfield and QPR aside, performances have reflected that so far this term.

Despite the hampering financial constraints, Lennon has barely let a grumble escape his lips, save from the occasional bemoaning of the lack of a striker, more of a reflection on the paucity of quality options than a criticism of the constricting circumstances.

Before arriving at the Macron, Lennon often came across as angry, almost hurt, at the lack of respect he was afforded for some impressive results at Celtic, particularly concerning Champions League nights against the likes of Barcelona.

Even though he may have felt his name should have been on the lips of Premier League chairmen, Lennon has always given the impression that he is proud to be Wanderers manager; that, amongst other factors, has contributed to the feeling that he is the most popular boss since Sam Allardyce. 

Whilst Freedman took Wanderers to seventh, the closest they’ve come to promotion since their relegation in 2012, there was never much of a sense of warmth between the Scotsman and the supporters.

Lennon, who spoke with great dignity and statehood about the Burnden Park disaster a fortnight ago, has endeared himself to Bolton supporters.

Of course, goodwill will only carry you so far, and Lennon’s task now is to make sure that the good run was not just the exception.



Image courtesy of BWFC via YouTube, with thanks.


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