Mid-season review: Missed chances at Bolton Wanderers frustrate fans but some signs of recovery

By Tom Belger

Nevermind turkey and trimmings, inconsistency and missed opportunities are the two things Bolton Wanderers fans will be thinking over Christmas.

Their side have made a shaky start to the season and now find themselves way off last season’s seventh place finish.

However green shoots of recovery appeared towards the end of the period as Bolton began to fire and pick up valuable points.

MM takes a look at what has been a frustrating first half of the season for the Trotters.


After a seventh place finish the previous season Bolton were hoping to go one better this campaign and achieve a play-off place.

In order to achieve this Dougie Freedman made a number of signings including former Premier League players Jay Spearing and Jermaine Beckford for big transfer fees.

The Scot also brought in experienced Championship players Neil Danns, Liam Feeney and Kevin McNaughton on loan as well as capturing Alex Baptiste, Marc Tierney and Andre Moritz on free transfers.

However the Trotters saw the experienced Kevin Davies depart in the summer as well as Keith Andrews, Sam Ricketts and Marvin Sordell who all moved onto pastures new.

All these changes meant the Trotters had a difficult pre-season losing to League One sides Rotherham and Carlisle as well as Spanish side Real Betis not the kind of start Freedman would have hoped for before the long season which lay ahead.


Bolton faced a tricky start to the season, an away trip to local rivals Burnley.

After falling behind to a Danny Ings goal, Darren Pratley levelled to give the Trotters a hard-earned point.

Freedman’s side then swept aside League One Shrewsbury in the opening round of the Capital One Cup 3-1 thanks to goals from youngsters Robert Hall and two from Sanmi Odelusi.

The Reebok stadium then played host to recently relegated Premier League side Reading and Bolton took an early lead through Darren Pratley but were denied a perfect home start by a second half Nick Blackman penalty.

Two points from two tough games seemed like a good start but August ended disastrously for Bolton.

They lost back to back games against Nottingham Forest, 3-0, and QPR, 1-0, before then crashing out of the Capital One Cup to League One Tranmere in a penalty shoot-out.

The month ended with another local derby however this time they were humiliated by Blackburn losing 4-1 a result which put Bolton bottom of the table at the end of August.


In spite of a poor August the Bolton fans flocked to the Reebok for the visit of Leeds as the Trotters attempted to claim their first league win.

However the season high crowd of 19,622 left disappointed as an early Luke Varney goal gave Leeds victory condemning Bolton to a fourth successive league defeat.

Bolton were still bottom of the table after failing to win any of their first six home games already their promotion chances looked a million miles away.

The visit of Derby gave them a chance to claim a first win and they got off to a great start when Alex Baptiste opened the scoring inside five minutes.

Derby though responded with two quick goals from Johnny Russell luckily Chris Eagles’ equaliser ended the losing run.

Things weren’t clicking for Freedman’s side they were struggling to find the net scoring only five goals in seven games and they were leaking goals at the back already conceding 13 league goals. 

These issues really came to a head when they made the long trip to the south coast to play Brighton as Bolton aimed to avoid their worst start in 50 years.

Bolton took the lead thanks to a Diego Lopez own goal but a suicidal four minutes from the Trotters defence early in the second half saw Brighton score three times in four minutes to pick up a 3-1 victory.

The month ended with a game against surprise League One promotion winners Yeovil at the Reebok a perfect chance to claim a first league victory.

However Yeovil were only minutes away from a surprise away victory until Alex Baptiste’s goal in stoppage time spared Bolton’s blushes.

It meant Bolton ended the month in 23rd place still without a victory and only four points from nine games, things needed to improve drastically for Freedman.


October is a month many under pressure manager’s fear as chairmen begin to lose patience with their underperforming teams.

However Freedman appeared calm as he chased his first win of the season.

The month’s first fixture was away against Paul Ince’s in-form Blackpool side, hardly the easiest place to pick up your first three points.

The Trotters though earned a creditable 0-0 draw at Bloomfield Road and there was hope that a first win was just around the corner.

So when Bolton travelled to play Birmingham four days later the players were in confident mood.

That mood was improved after 12 minutes when Jermaine Beckford scored his first goal of the season to put Bolton in front.

Neil Danns added a second after the break before Nikola Zigic pulled one back to test Bolton’s nerve.

Freedman’s side though held onto victory to the relief of the players, fans and more importantly the manager.

The win was expected to give Bolton the confidence to push on but the international break stopped momentum from growing.

Back to back 1-1 draws against Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town where Bolton twice let 1-0 leads slip after failing to kill off the opposition began to frustrate fans that were yet to see a home victory.

However those results meant Bolton finished October unbeaten which moved them out of the relegation zone and towards a more respectable position.


Killing teams off was the message Freedman was telling his players at the beginning of November.

That message was taken on board straightaway as Bolton travelled to the south coast to face a newly promoted Bournemouth side who had adapted well to life in the Championship.

David Ngog gave the Trotters the lead opening his account for the season and a second victory was confirmed in the dying moments of the game when Beckford scored for the third time in four games.

The elusive home win had still yet to come but the visit of fellow strugglers Millwall to the Reebok Stadium gave Bolton hope.

Rob Hall scored early on but his effort was cancelled out by Jermaine Easter to give Bolton fans a sense of deja vu.

However Bolton responded, Beckford scoring just before half-time and Andre Moritz wrapped up the Trotters first three points at home in stoppage time.

Again Bolton seemed to have found form and again there was another international break which fans feared would break their growing momentum.

A trip to Vicarage Road to face Gianfranco Zola’s impressive Watford side would be a real test of whether Bolton could carry on their form after the international break.

The Trotters though showed a much more mental strength as they ran out 1-0 winners thanks to another Beckford goal.

The result extended Bolton’s run to ten games and although Middlesbrough ended that run at the end of the month with a 1-0 win at the Riverside, Freedman received a manager of the month nomination as Bolton moved up to 16th in the table.

December (until 15th)

The Middlesbrough defeat at the end of November wasn’t expected to affect the positive mood around the Reebok as Freedman declared his side would bounce back immediately.

However Huddersfield had other ideas as they claimed a 1-0 win at the Reebok a result which began to worry fans.

After a late penalty miss and a late chance wasted in the back-to-back defeats Beckford was under pressure from the fans.

Joe Mason had been brought in on loan at the end of November from Cardiff and the striker was given a full debut against Doncaster as Freedman went in search of goals.

The plan worked, Mason scored along with Moritz and Danns to give Bolton their biggest win of the season and calm fans fears of another winless streak.

Buoyed by the win over Doncaster over 4500 Bolton fans travelled to the DW stadium to watch the Trotters faced local rivals Wigan Athletic.

They were to go home disappointed though as Callum McManaman’s second half winner gave Wigan a 3-2 victory to ruin a Bolton second half fight-back.

Bolton had been 2-0 down at half-time but Danns and Moritz pulled them level soon after the break so to then concede again was a huge blow for Freedman’s men which they were unable to recover from.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports via YouTube, with thanks.

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