END OF SEASON REVIEW: Marc Iles shares his views on the top 10 best and worst moments for Bolton Wanderers this campaign
IT has been quite a ride for Bolton fans this season as the club teetered between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
From the worst start since 1903 and a 7-1 humbling at Reading to the thrilling victory at Elland Road over Leeds United and the best run of away results since 2001 – we take a look at the 11 moments that have helped the shape a season of extremes.
1) Nottingham Forest 3 Wanderers 0 August 17, 2013 The City Ground Wanderers had started the season well enough with two draws against Burnley and Reading but this was the first sign that the expected play-off charge would not be as straightforward as first thought.
Darren Pratley was sent off just after half time but the Whites were already 2-0 down.
Capital One Cup heroes Rob Hall, who played from the off, and Sanmi Odelusi, who came on as a sub, looked out of their depth against the experienced Forest back line, while Craig Davies would not make another start for the club for another 25 games.
Unbeknown to the Wanderers fans at the City Ground that day, this was not a temporary blip. Things were about to get a whole lot worse.
2) Blackburn Rovers 4 Wanderers 1 August 31, 2013 Ewood Park “If certain players don’t want to be here, they can go come Monday morning – that’s how I feel right now.”
They were the words of Dougie Freedman as he assessed a disastrous derby a few days before the close of the summer transfer window.
Privately, a handful of players had been made available for transfer or loan as Freedman tried to muster the finances to improve his squad further – but frustratingly, the deadline passed without any discernible deals.
Jordan Rhodes, bizarrely linked by tabloids in a big money move to Wanderers over the summer, scored two of Rovers’ haul.
This also proved to be the final game that full-back Tyrone Mears ever played for Bolton Wanderers.
3) Wanderers 1 Yeovil Town 1 September 28, 2013 Reebok Stadium Wanderers went into the game rock bottom of the Championship but they got little solace from a point gained against relegation favourites Yeovil.
Marc Tierney – the club’s only recognised left-back at the time – was stretchered off with a broken leg in the first half after a typically robust touchline challenge with Shane Duffy.
Wanderers toiled in midfield, struggling to break down the plucky Glovers who then got a shock lead thanks to a howling error from Adam Bogdan, fumbling Ed Upson’s daisy cutter over his own line.
And while the Hungarian’s blushes were spared somewhat when Alex Baptiste grabbed a late injury time equaliser, few Wanderers fans were about to forgive an abject performance.
4) Blackpool 0 Wanderers 0 October 1, 2013 Bloomfield Road Out of the doom and gloom, Freedman had reached for three Championship specialists to help steady the ship.
Liam Feeney, the speedy Millwall winger, Kevin McNaughton the rock-solid Cardiff full-back and Neil Danns, an experienced bundle of energy from Leicester City were hardly billed as season-changers.
But their effect on the squad was an instant one, and the goalless draw at Bloomfield Road against a Blackpool side then flying high, was the start of some gradual improvement.
David Ngog and Chris Eagles were dropped to the bench and Wanderers instantly had a more resilient look about them.
The point Wanderers gained lifted them out of the bottom three – and they would not return there for the rest of the season.
5) Bournemouth 0 Wanderers 2 November 2, 2013 The Goldsands Stadium THE resilience that had been introduced into Dougie Freedman’s squad by the trio of loanees had not necessarily wowed the fans but on the South Coast their measured counter-attacking style worked like a charm.
With wide man Liam Feeney now back at Millwall, this was the first real occasion on which the manager’s narrower diamond midfield really came into its own, absorbing Bournemouth’s possession-based approach and then hitting them hard and fast on the break.
David Ngog and Jermaine Beckford had been paired together for the first time up front and both got on the scoresheet at the Goldsands Stadium.
Freedman had to pick his moments to play two up front but on this occasion the Cherries had no answer to his tactical approach.
6) Leicester City 5 Wanderers 3 December 26, 2013 King Power Stadium Dougie Freedman described Leicester as the best side in the Championship by “a million miles” – and he was proved right as the Foxes lifted the title with room to spare at the Reebok when the two sides met again four months later.
His own side’s deficiencies were shown up in the East Midlands, not least the gaping holes left by departed loanees Neil Danns and Kevin McNaughton.
Wanderers had traded some good football with the champions-elect as the sides shared six goals in the first half, goalscorers Andre Moritz and Jermaine Beckford particularly impressive.
But Nigel Pearson’s side flexed their muscles later on to kill the game, with Lloyd Dyer outstanding.
7) Reading 7 Wanderers 1 January 18, 2014 Madejski Stadium It was Wanderers’ worst defeat in 32 years – and the lowest ebb since Wanderers dropped into the Championship.
While Reading were ruthless, Garath McCleary and Adam le Fondre impossible to contain on the day, Dougie Freedman’s side were equally inept.
And the manager launched into a withering attack after the final whistle.
“You are seeing players who are frankly not good enough for the football club. Anyone can see that,” he said.
“I have to work with these players and train with them until I can get recruitment in.
“I have been here 14-15 months but there is still a nucleus of players who are simply not good enough.”
8) Millwall 1 Wanderers 1 February 15, 2014 The Den Chris Eagles had been the poster boy of last season’s near miss on the play-offs but his meek display in South London would prove the nail in the coffin for his Wanderers career.
In a script that would be re-read time and time again by the Whites, they forged an early lead through Lukas Jutkiewicz – recruited on loan from Middlesbrough a month earlier to much acclaim – but failed to kill the game off.
Eagles trudged off after 73 minutes to be replaced by Neil Danns, few knew that it would be the last time we saw him on the pitch.
Martyn Woolford snatched a point, leaving Ian Holloway to add insult to injury by branding Dougie Freedman’s style of football as “boring” after the final whistle.
9) Leeds United 1 Wanderers 5 March 8, 2014 Elland Road This was the antidote to the Madejski Massacre – a five-star display that had every Wanderers fan wondering “what if?”
Any lingering fears that the club could be pulled into a relegation fight were put to bed by a scintillating display that silenced one of the most intimidating arenas in English football.
Joe Mason and Lukas Jutkiewicz, by now a celebrated front pairing following Mason’s return from Cardiff City, gave Wanderers a 2-0 lead by the break.
Zat Knight, Mark Davies and Andre Moritz inflicted yet more pain on Brian McDermott’s fallen giants to register their best away win since the 5-0 destruction of Leicester City in their return to the Premier League under Sam Allardyce.
10) Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wanderers 3 April 26, 2014 Hillsborough A glimpse of what is in store next season? Wanderers fans will certainly hope so.
The pressure was off Dougie Freedman’s revived side as they toyed with Wednesday in the penultimate game but it did not make the display any less impressive.
Neil Danns, Chung-Yong Lee and Liam Trotter ripped into Stuart Gray’s side to establish a 3-0 lead inside half an hour, making the result academic.
And while the now-familiar wastefulness in front of goal stopped this being a Leeds-style rout, the sound of local lads Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett being cheered with every touch made this the most worthwhile away trip of the campaign.