Bolton Wanderers fell to the bottom of the Premier League on Saturday following a 2-1 home defeat to Aston Villa, their 13th loss in 15 games and 35th and 36th goals conceded – just 20 have come in reply. Owen Coyle faces a difficult New Year as he attempts to lift the mood at the Reebok Stadium and take his team out of the relegation battle they are undoubtedly currently in.
It was generally expected then that Bolton would surpass last year’s achievements. That is despite the loss of Johan Elmander and Daniel Sturridge, who brought a combined 20 goals to the side, and the injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee. By losing the four, Coyle lost not only two of his side’s most potent weapons, but also his midfield engine and dynamic wide man. The efforts to replace them, with Tuncay Sanli, Gael Kakuta, David N’Gog, Nigel Reo Coker and Chris Eagles have had varying degrees of success. The forwards have in particular disappointed – Tuncay, Kakuta and N’Gog have a combined three goals between them, and only one of them, from N’Gog, has come in the league.
Finding a solution to his side’s goal scoring woes – which may have gotten worse when Ivan Klasnic, top scorer this season with seven, went off injured against Villa – is one of Coyle’s priorities, but tightening up at the other end is high on the list as well. And Coyle may have to do so without in-demand Gary Cahill. The England centre-back was on the verge of leaving over the summer, only to stay at Bolton as his suitors turned elsewhere, but the interest has returned and Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are expected to launch bids when the transfer window reopens next month.
The departure of Cahill has been widely expected for some time but if it comes when Bolton are stranded at the bottom of the table, it will be an even greater blow than if Cahill had moved on over the summer. Coyle would have had more time – and possibly more money in return – to replace the defender, but January is said by almost all managers to be the worst time to add new faces. It will only get more difficult if Bolton are still in danger.
Coyle’s reputation, earned as much by saving Bolton from relegation as leading Burnley to promotion, is about to have its merits tested to the full.
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