THE storm clouds gathered and the wind whipped around the town yesterday as if in preparation for a local derby which could trigger a winter of discontent at Wanderers.

Menacing grey skies rather summed up the mood of Bolton fans after a drab defeat against Sheffield Wednesday which left the club floundering in the Championship relegation zone.

Through good times and bad, Phil Parkinson has been the figurehead to front up and explain fluctuating fortunes. He grinned through a hard-fought promotion from League One, breathed a sigh of relief after a miraculous escape from relegation last season, but now resembles a manager struggling to solve an equation in a sea of ones and zeros.

Wanderers’ misery has been logged in binary. Their goal return has been zero in 10 of the last 15 outings, while conceding a solitary goal now looks an insurmountable obstacle for a team with brittle confidence.

The standard of football on show – never exactly free-flowing in Parkinson’s two-and-a-half years – has devolved to the extent that even season ticket holders are threatening to stay away.

Parkinson has tried in vain to shield his squad from the worst of the criticism and launched a defence of the performance at Hillsborough which left those who watched it from the stands scratching their heads in disagreement. And his willingness to spare individuals in the dressing room may now be cost.

Whereas Parkinson has always been given the full respect of the fan-base for the stable and dignified way he has led the club through troubled times, there is a sense recent results are starting to gnaw away at reserves of goodwill.

For the first time on Tuesday night vocal chants calling for the removal of the manager could be heard from the travelling supporters. They were small in number but should the outcome be the same on Saturday, you fear the volume will be turned up considerably.

For all the mitigating circumstances which can be presented for why Parkinson’s team is struggling, there is a sense that at least some of this season’s problems have been self-inflicted. And thought the manager still has a reliable bank of Wanderers fans who would dearly love to see him turn things around, this sad narrative is starting to bear some depressingly familiar hallmarks.

The manager has been here before, of course, and calls for his head were just as vociferous when Wanderers took two points from their opening 11 games last season. Protests even threatened to boil over at Burton Albion back in April, when a defeat to the Brewers looked to have consigned Parkinson’s side to the drop.

On both occasions Ken Anderson held firm, and his manager delivered what was asked of him. The last few weeks has felt like a similar test of fate and though Anderson has reined in his running commentary, he let it be known over the international break that his stance had not changed. Whether the two games played since have shifted his view, remains to be seen.

Parkinson offered his players a clean slate and tried to mend tired bodies and minds by giving extra time at home with their families. He got a response, of sorts at Millwall. But the limp display at Sheffield Wednesday leaves even that gracious gesture in question.

Wanderers laboured last season in the relegation zone but rarely did the disconnect feel this acute. Apathy has grown to be just as big a danger for Bolton’s prosperity as anything else.

Nothing sums up Parkinson’s problems quite like the alarming statistic that his side have not won a game in which they have conceded the first goal in 74 attempts. Raising significant questions about player mentality and tactical flexibility, the incredible run stretches all the way back to League One and a 2-1 home win against Northampton. And it is unquestionably a stick with which the manager’s critics can beat him.

It is nearly three years since Wanderers last met Wigan – Martyn Waghorn’s late goal saving a point for the Latics but ultimately failing to prevent Malky Mackay’s side from slipping to relegation. The shoe will be on the other foot this weekend, as nothing would please Wiganers more than to inflame their local rivals’ agony.

Parkinson is also seeking some pain relief. His requests for players to produce a moment of quality have sounded increasingly desperate in recent weeks. But, more worryingly, the work-rate which at one stage had looked beyond question, has now given way to emotional exhaustion and nervousness.

A local derby - and a chance to get adrenaline pumping on and off the pitch - could simultaneously be the best and worst thing for a manager under pressure.