IT was written on Owen Coyle’s face after Saturday’s defeat against Millwall – he had tried his best, but it hadn’t been good enough.
You’d be hard pressed to find a Wanderers fan who won’t wish Owen well as he departs the Reebok Stadium, but over the last few weeks, I’ve also been struggling to find people who wanted him to stay on and continue the job.
Separating the man who gave absolutely everything to make a success of his time at Bolton from the one whose decisions as manager have left the club in 18th position in the Championship isn’t an easy task.
I have found myself willing Coyle to catch a break, get a lucky run of results, but then find a selection decision or a substitution impossible to fathom.
Such was the bank of goodwill on the terraces that even relegation from the Premier League was accepted by a large swathe of fans, content in the belief that the club would be talking one step back to take two forwards.
This hasn’t been a Steve Kean and Blackburn Rovers situation. There were no mass protests, nor a noticeable number of stay-aways. But since the start of the season there has been a sharp decline in the number of people who truly believed he had the tactical nous to turn things round, when pure motivation wasn’t going to be enough.
Talk of a grand plan – the real details of which were always rather sketchy - was all very good when things were going well, as they did for a good 18 months even given the disappointment of Wembley.
But facing the likes of Millwall, Crystal Palace and Watford in the hurly burly of the Championship every week, a squad that had retained it’s supposed star players, with an annual wage budget of £30-plus million, should have been doing much, much better than it was.
Gradually this season, Coyle’s blind belief that promotion would be attained has hardly wavered. The ashen-faced man who delivered the same speech at The Den last weekend, however, didn’t look like one who thought he would see it through.
In the end, the club did everything they could to try and turn fortunes round. Sammy Lee’s greater influence on the training field became a concession the manager had to make.
On Sunday and Monday night Phil Gartside and Eddie Davies were still wrestling with the notion that they may have to make a decision, but in the end, a glance at the league table told you exactly why it had to be done.
One of the first things Owen told me after taking charge of Wanderers was his own managerial ethos: “You do well and move on, Marc, or you don’t, and someone moves you on.”
For a long time I thought the club were living on borrowed time with a manager held in such high regard around the game.
I take little joy from the fact it didn’t end up that way.