Can Coyle's Whites emulate class of 2008 in survival bid?
Wanderers fans are certainly well versed in the arts of table-gazing and sussing out where the points will come from in a relegation scrap at this time of year.
From the early successful attempts to preserve Premier League status under Sam Allardyce to the modern day battles under Gary Megson and Owen Coyle, nails have often been found to be close to the quick at the Reebok as we approach the month of May.
We find ourselves again contemplating life outside the elite this season, where a raft of uncontrollable circumstances coupled with prolonged spells of poor form have ensured Coyle’s transitional side have rarely strayed away from the bottom three.
But while the chairman, manager and players were still talking confidently that the club could escape the drop, even after successive defeats against Fulham and Newcastle last weekend, there seems to be much less bravado on the terraces.
Four years ago, it was an even gloomier picture as Megson’s Wanderers were trounced 4-0 by Aston Villa to leave themselves four points from safety with five games to play.
Quite against the odds, the team rallied to take 11 points and seal safety with an improbable draw at Chelsea on the final day of the season.
It was an achievement that perhaps did not get the credit it deserved at the time, largely because Roy Hodgson had inspired Fulham to an even more incredible bid for safety.
And it certainly marked the high point of Megson’s popularity – with those ‘Ginger Mourinho’ chants getting their final airing in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Coyle has also been here before, of course, having inherited a side just over two years ago from Megson that was entrenched in the bottom three. But most of his hard work was done in February and March as, inspired by loan signing Jack Wilshere, the club put clear daylight between themselves and the relegation picture in advance of the final six games.
It was left for Matt Taylor to rubber stamp safety with a late and memorable double at Stoke City, and Wanderers’ finishing position of 14th did not hint at how long they had been toiling at the wrong end of the table.
But how does Coyle’s current crop compare with the class of 2008 who successfully handled this situation?
Despite efforts being made to reduce the average age of the squad, the team you would realistically expect to step out against Swansea in a week’s time compares very closely in that respect with Megson’s great escape artists at a shade over 27 years of age.
Gretar Steinsson and Kevin Davies remain from the side that scrapped their way to safety, starting with the skipper scoring the winner – and 100th career goal – against West Ham, a game that also saw him dislocate his finger.
Around them, and discounting the other two thirtysomethings, Sam Ricketts and Martin Petrov, there is considerably less top-flight experience than in 2008.
Ryo Miyaichi, Adam Bogdan, Tim Ream and Darren Pratley are in their first season of regular Premier League football, whereas those who really came to the fore in 2008 were old pros such as Gavin McCann and Stelios with crucial goals at Middlesbrough and Tottenham when their side really needed them.
Only time will tell whether Coyle’s colts can do the same.
How they compare:
Bogdan v Al Habsi
Bogdan has shown meteoric progress since usurping Jussi Jaaskelainen but Al-Habsi’s input in those final two months was immeasurable.
Bogdan 7 Al Habsi 9
Steinsson v Steinsson
Steinsson circa 2008 was the rabble rousing new boy on the block, the current vintage is older, wiser and more experienced in these matters.
Steinsson 7 Steinsson 6
Wheater v Cahill
Improving Wheater has forged a solid enough partnership with Ream, while Cahill was still very much wet behind the ears in his debut campaign.
Wheater 7 Cahill 7
Ream v Andy O’Brien
American Ream has been an impressive addition, bringing real pace to the back four, O’Brien was Mr Consistent in 2008 and very much a defensive staple.
Ream 7 O’Brien 7
Ricketts v Samuel
One of this season’s steadiest performers, Ricketts has added such assurance to the left. Samuel was solid but lacked attacking nous.
Ricketts 8 Samuel 6
Petrov v Taylor
We have seen brief glimpses of Petrov’s best in recent weeks but consistency still seems an issue. Taylor has similar struggles in his first campaign.
Petrov 6 Taylor 6
Reo-Coker v McCann
A born leader, Reo-Coker has been one of the bright spots of a year to forget. McCann’s uncomprimising style summed up Megson’s era.
Reo-Coker 8 McCann 6
Pratley v Campo
Although improved, Pratley still has plenty to prove at Wanderers. Campo’s style and swagger made him a terrace hero, even if his time was running out.
Pratley 6 Campo 8
Mark Davies v Nolan
Both potential match-winners on their day but Davies’s greater mobility makes him a slightly more potent weapon for the modern day Whites.
Davies 8 Nolan 7
Miyaichi v Diouf
Young loanee Miyaichi enjoyed a fine start but has found the going tough recently. Diouf was always a menace, if a distraction at times.
Miyaichi 7 Diouf 8
Kevin Davies v Kevin Davies
A 35-year-old Davies has five goals this season whereas the 31-year-old version had three. Both fearsome customers on their day.
Davies 7 Davies 7
2012 team 72pts 2008 team 74pts