Coyle joined Bolton Wanderers from Burnley in January this year, but a look at the table with just 12 games to go does not make pleasant reading for the former Clarets manager. Bolton and Burnley both find themselves in the relegation zone, on 23 points after 26 matches, with only an 8 goal deficit leaving Burnley just one place behind 18th placed Bolton.
This does not make particularly good reading for Coyle, and whilst Burnley’s descent under Brian Laws is perhaps not of Coyle’s making, his record since taking over at Bolton begs the question; did Bolton have a better chance of staying up under Gary ‘ginger Mourinho’ Megson?
When Phil Gartside managed to prise Burnley’s self proclaimed ‘Moses’ away from Turf Moor, to a certain extent it was a real coup for Bolton, as at the time they were lagging behind Burnley in the race for Premier League survival. Gartside waxed lyrical at his appointment, telling BBC Sport:
“We hit it off right away and could have finished (our discussions) in five minutes. We did not have anyone else on the list…This was the only guy we wanted. You have to remember I recommended him to Burnley in the first place.”
However, following Gartside’s capture of the former Falkirk and St. Johnstone manager, Bolton have won just 5 points from a possible 24. Further, in their last two matches against Blackburn and Tottenham, they have conceded 7 and scored none. Whilst the game against Tottenham in the FA Cup was not high on Coyle’s agenda considering his team selection, Bolton’s record of just 1 win and 2 draws has led many to question the wisdom of Coyle’s appointment.
Phil Gartside had supported Gary Megson well in the transfer market, and signings such as Johan Elmander, who cost £8.2, went towards shaping the side to Megson’s preferred style. Therefore, was it the right time to disrupt the style of play mid-way through the season, with Coyle’s penchant for free flowing football arguably difficult with the personnel assembled by Megson?
An issue for Coyle’s Bolton side is that whilst Coyle’s Burnley were able to play at a high tempo with a lot of width, Bolton do not have the likes of Steven Fletcher and Martin Patterson to make runs down the channels. Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander for example, are effective target men, but their lack of mobility may not suit the playing style Coyle desires.
Certainly, against Fulham at home and Wignan away, two matches that Bolton should have won, scoring appeared problematic. Further, Vladimir Weiss and Jack Wilshere, two attacking players Coyle brought to the Reebok during the January transfer window, have seen limited playing time, even when Bolton appear to be on top and looking for a goal. Coyle appears to be struggling to find an effective attacking system, and whether Bolton will find time to develop a winning formula in the midst of a relegation battle is questionable.
Whilst Coyle has not had the start he wanted at Bolton, perhaps it is wise not to judge the Scot just yet. Aside from losing Gary Cahill, a massive blow for Bolton defensively but also owing to Cahill’s ability to score, four of Coyle’s eight matches in charge have come against Arsenal twice, Liverpool and Manchester City. Further, the only truly disappointing defeat probably came against Blackburn, as Bolton were unlucky not to win against Wigan and Fulham. Realistically, we will learn a lot more about Bolton’s chances of staying up after their next four matches-Wolves, West Ham, Sunderland and Wigan.
Whether Megson’s brand of football was as bad as Bolton fans made out is perhaps academic, as it is unlikely Bolton could have won enough games to avoid relegation whilst there was such animosity from the fans towards Megson. With home games feeling like away matches at times, Megson was always on borrowed time. However, starting with the visit of Wolves on Saturday, Bolton need to start winning football matches, and if they don’t start picking up points soon, the ‘ginger Mourinho’ might not look so bad after all…
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